- Replacing rice with alternative
crops like maize, finger millet, pearl millet, or sorghum could reduce
irrigation water demand by 33 percent
- Alternative crops also improve
production of iron by 27 percent and zinc by 13 percent
- 2018 can rightfully
be called the "Year of the Millets"
future where water crisis is imminent, it is best to save every drop we get.
The current study published in Science
has looked into replacing
some rice with less thirsty crops that could dramatically reduce water demand
in India, while also improving nutrition.
Current (Agricultural) Situation of India?
that started in India in the 1960s aimed at reducing
hunger throughout India by making the country self-sufficient and
self-reliable. However, it is not a viable solution anymore due to the toll it
has taken on the environment like increased demands on the water supply,
greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution from fertilizer.
regions are already chronically water-stressed, and, to make matters worse,
monsoons are delivering less rainfall than they used to.
‘With India’s growing population, cultivating alternative crops such as like maize, finger millet, pearl millet, or sorghum instead of rice can save water and improve nutrition in our country.’
its growing population, India will need to feed approximately 394 million
more people by 2050.
30 percent or more people in India are anemic
and also have other significant nutrient deficiencies.
"If we continue to go the route
of rice and wheat, with unsustainable resource use and increasing climate
variability, its unclear how long we could keep that practice up," says
Kyle Davis, a fellow at Columbia University's Earth Institute and lead author
on the new study. "That's why we're thinking of ways to better align food
security and environmental goals."
In their study, Davis and his
colleagues addressed two key objectives of the Indian government
- To reduce undernourishment and
- To promote sustainable water use
They studied six of the major grains (rice,
wheat, maize, sorghum, and pearl and finger millet)
currently cultivated in
India. For each of the crops, they compared yield, water use, and nutritional
values such as calories, protein, iron, and zinc.
- Rice takes up most water when it
comes to producing nutrients
- Wheat has been instrumental in
causing maximum irrigation stresses
- Overall, irrigation water demand can
be reduced by 33 percent if we replace rice with alternative crops like
maize, finger millet, pearl millet, or sorghum
- Production of iron and zinc are
improved by 27 percent and 13 percent respectively
Even though growing alternative grains
has a couple of downfalls, like the potential benefits rely on how much the
crops could depend on rainfall instead of irrigation, and the yields per unit
of land are lower compared to rice, there is potential for the alternative
crops to develop higher yields as well if the scientists give more attention.
Replacement of rice should be
evaluated on a case-by-case basis for each district,
Findings are promising but to start making policy recommendations,
the research team would have to add other
variables into the analysis, like greenhouse gas emissions, climate
sensitivity, and the labor and money involved to grow each crop.
Are Indians Willing to Incorporate
Alternative Cereals into their Diet?
The answer seems to be in the affirmative.
- Alternative crops still continue to
be consumed in pretty large amounts in many places around India.
- India's state-run Public
Distribution System (PDS) currently gives incentives to smallholder
farmers and low-income households to plant and buy rice and wheat, but
future policies could influence consumer preferences and help to encourage
the use of the more nutritious, water-saving cereals like millet and sorghum.
- Some Indian states have already
started pilot programs to grow more of these crops.
"If the government is able to get
people more interested in eating millets, the production will organically
respond to that. If you have more demand, then people will pay a better price
for it, and farmers will be more willing to plant it," said Davis.
- Kyle Frankel Davis, Davide Danilo Chiarelli, Maria Cristina Rulli, Ashwini Chhatre, Brian Richter, Deepti Singh, Ruth DeFries. Alternative cereals can improve water use and nutrient supply in India. Science Advances, 2018
- Green Revolution in India - (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Revolution_in_India)