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The rice contributes almost half of the country’s cereal production, and cereals continue to make up much of the calorie consumption in India’s urban and rural households

Farmers thrashing paddy at a field

India can sustainably enhance its food supply and improve its environmental footprint by reducing its reliance on rice and planting more nutritious and less environmentally damaging crops such as sorghum, finger millet and pearl millet, says a study from the University of Delaware in the US.

“You often see agriculture presented as causing environmental problems, when in fact agriculture is the solution to many challenges,” said lead researcher Kyle Davis, Assistant Professor at the University of Delaware.

“Our study shows there are opportunities to realise a number of different benefits through more thoughtful agricultural practices, and it shows that a single intervention can change multiple outcomes for the better,” Davis added.

When the Green Revolution came to India, it brought with it an emphasis on high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat, which allowed India to triple its cereal production over the past 50 years.

As a result, rice contributes almost half of the country’s cereal production, and cereals continue to make up much of the calorie consumption in India’s urban and rural households.

But that success has led to two new problems: rice does not offer the nutritional benefits of some other cereals, such as sorghum and millets, and at the same time it is grown in areas that are not necessarily suited to rice production which can have adverse environmental impacts.

A farmer busy winnowing paddy. (File Photo: IANS)

While the reliance on rice during the Green Revolution succeeded in feeding a large population, it also pushed out a lot of traditional cereals that are still consumed in India but to a lesser extent, Davis explained.

“We’ve found that those traditional cereals have a higher nutritional quality and also tend to use less water, require less energy to be grown, and emit fewer greenhouse gases on a per kilogram basis,” said Davis.

Because rice is flood irrigated, it requires a lot of water which is a burden in a country like India that is experiencing widespread depletion of groundwater resources.

In addition, the standing water in rice fields contributes to anaerobic respiration which causes methane, a potent greenhouse gas, to be emitted into the atmosphere.

Since the other cereals are not flood irrigated, their production does not produce any methane emissions, said the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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