Why Indian farmers must grow less rice and wheat

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Read full article by Emma Bryce @Quartz India PC: Quartz India

Replacing rice with grains like sorghum, millet will boost the boost the quantity of available nutrients like iron by 27% and zinc by 13% and significantly reduces the water irrigation.

If Indian farmers replaced plots of water-guzzling rice and wheat with less thirsty crops, this moderate shift could cut down the country’s water consumption by a whopping one-third. Plus, crop-swapping would have the added benefit of boosting national nutrition, a new Science Advances study finds. As the second-largest country in the world with 1.3 billion mouths to feed, transforming agriculture in India while maintaining food security could carry lessons for the rest of the globe.

By 2050, the country will have to feed almost 400 million more people, and already 30% of the population are undernourished because they lack enough iron in their diets. What’s more, water availability has become increasingly threatened as groundwater extraction intensifies, and climate change makes rainfall less predictable. That puts wheat and rice–two of the country’s most important and thirsty crops–under threat. But the new Columbia University-led research shows that with some agricultural tweaks, India might be able to dodge this fate.

The researchers modelled the impact of different crops on water use and the provision of four key nutrients—iron, zinc, protein, and calories—across several regions of India. When compared with other cereal crops like sorghum, maize, and millet, the wheat and rice just didn’t stack up, water- and nutrition-wise. In particular, the researchers found that rice provided the least nutrition for the amount of water consumed. Replacing rice paddies with other grains, the study found, would collectively cut irrigation by 33% across the country. This would also boost the quantity of available nutrients overall, crucially increasing iron by 27%, and zinc by 13% (but protein by only 1%)


Posted on

November 14, 2019

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