Thursday, July 05, 2018

Feeding India

A study conducted by an international team of scientists aimed to address two key targets of the Indian government – to improve the nation’s nutrition and promote sustainable water use. Current estimates suggest the nation will have to feed nearly 400 million more people by 2050 – a significant undertaking given that it already struggles with widespread malnutrition and lack of water. India must shift from growing mainly rice and wheat to other crops that are healthier and better for the environment, according to the new research. The research team looked at six grains currently grown in India: rice, wheat, maize, sorghum, and pearl and finger millet. Their results revealed that rice is the least water efficient cereal in India, and wheat was playing a significant role in driving water loss due to its high irrigation demands. In addition, they looked at the nutrient value of crops for components like calories, protein, iron and zinc. Their results suggested that replacing the current standard crops with maize, finger millet, pearl millet or sorghum would improve iron production by over a quarter and zinc by around a tenth.

Currently, almost a third of India’s population are anaemic, and huge swathes of the country are severely lacking in waster due to heavy extraction for agricultural irrigation and less rain from recent monsoons. Indian diets are largely based on cereal crops, but the scientists suggest that the currently favoured varieties are contributing to the country’s problems.

 "If we continue to go the route of rice and wheat, with unsustainable resource use and increasing climate variability, it's unclear how long we could keep that practice up," said Dr Kyle Davis, a Columbia University scientist who led the research. "That's why we're thinking of ways to better align food security and environmental goals." 

Much of India’s reliance on rice and wheat comes from the so-called “green revolution” of the 1960s, a period in which the widespread rollout of new agriculture technologies led to a massive boost in crop production. While these innovations played a significant role in reducing widespread hunger across the region, they took their toll on the environment, increasing greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. A farming revolution could be aided further if the Indian state begins providing smallholder farmers with the same kind of subsidies that current incentivise them to planet rice and wheat.

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