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Millets: How we are losing our traditionally Organic & Healthy Foods
Sometimes we don't realise how we have lost our traditionally nutritious and indigenous crops due to modern science and our greed to too-much-too-soon. Despite the Green Revolution & introduction of Hybrid seeds, Millets are now making a comeback into our diets...Here's why it's especially important to go organic for millets.
Millets like ragi, bajra, jowar, sorghum etc have always been a part of the traditional Indian diet because of their nutritive value and the fact that every region had its own native varieties. These were well adapted to the local climate, soil and other agri-conditions, and were also immersed in the local cuisine and culture. Traditionally, Millets used to grow well in arid to semi arid regions with minimal external inputs from the farmer. This is because chemical fertilizers need timely irrigation to be effective, and due to the unpredictable rains, they would be wasted on millets.
Farmers used to grow millets more or less for personal consumption. Even a 5 acre patch of land planted with traditional millets could provide the farmer nutritious grain and his animals fodder for a year. His animals in turn, would not only provide milk, but also manure for the crop. The perfect cycle!
However, after the green revolution, monoculture of crops like wheat and rice grew at a rapid pace, and millets were not accorded importance. These healthy foods have slowly and gradually dropped out of our regular diets. Shortsighted scientific advances did even more harm to millet cultivation … hybrid seeds were introduced. While hybrid seeds do increase crop yield, they have a few major repercussions:
1. They have been designed to respond well to chemical inputs (fertilizers)
2. They reduce the crop cycle (so the sowing to harvesting time comes down from about 120 days to about 65 days).
3. They produce significantly less fodder.
So now on his 5 acre patch, our farmer gets some extra grain, but he can rear fewer animals since the fodder is significantly less. He has to apply chemical fertilizers to his crop as he obviously gets less manure from fewer animals, and he ends up with a lot less milk too! Chemical usage implies he has to irrigate his crop, because if the rains aren’t timely, his crop will fail. The reduction in crop cycle also means that instead of 15 dry days, the crops can withstand only 2-4 dry days; or again the crop will fail… so now the crop is heavily chemical & irrigation dependent.
In fact, this dependence on external irrigation has increased the crop failures from once in 10 years to once in 3 years! The local water table, the regional animal husbandry, the ecosystem, the nutrition available from the same patch of land; everything is compromised.
Shifting from nature’s pattern and natural farming methods has made us compromise our food security. That’s why going back to organic farming and traditional crops & agricultural methods is how we can rejuvenate the earth. Eat organically grown millets for your health & the health of the earth.
Interview with Mr. Mukesh Gupta, Morarka Foundation, 3.1.12
Live Mint, 4.1.12: “Whats your millet Mojo” by Gayatri Jayaraman