Protect and promote the native crop diversity in India

 By Sudhansu R Das

Construction of National Highways for the movement of goods and services, agro processing industries, storage, godowns, super markets, commercial farming and advanced agriculture technologies etc are unable to check the rising food price in the country.  The food price in the country has skyrocketed adding to hunger, malnutrition and stunted growth; it gives pain to people during the pandemic when people have lost income sources. One drumstick costs Rs 12 in Mumbai, Rs 15 in Pune and Rs 14 in Hyderabad when drumstick trees grow abundantly in the Indian climate.  The tomato is sold at Rs 80 per kg in Hyderabad in winter season, brinjal at Rs 75 per kg in Mumbai. Besides vegetables, the cost of food grains and edible oil has become very costly due to various reasons.  Fuel price rise, high transportation cost, increase in the cost of cultivation, growing demand from agro processors, growth of hotel chains, sourcing of food crops by super markets, shrinking of fertile agriculture land, mono crop practices, hoarding of food by traders and disappearance of native crops etc have contributed to the rise of food price. How to reduce the cost of food is the biggest challenge before the country.

First, the governments, farmers, NGOs, voluntary organizations, conscious citizens, agriculture scientists, media and the youth should converge to protect and promote the locally grown food grains, vegetables, fruits and oilseeds so that those foods will be easily available for the local people at a far lower cost. Locally grown foods are part of India’s rich crop diversity. The native food crops grow on the roadside, on the bank of the ponds, on the periphery of agricultural land, in forest, on hills and in the backyard etc. Those herbs, shrubs, trees and creepers grow in small houses and on small land holdings naturally without much expenditure.

Over decades, aggressive mono crop practices in some states, introduction of hybrid crops and mindless unscientific farm mechanization have eroded a large variety of native crops which abundantly grow amid the natural environment.  Though the native crops cannot build wealth, these crops have potential to mitigate hunger and malnutrition.  France, German and European Union countries have almost erased native crop diversity and are now facing serious farm yard crisis which compel a large number of farmers to commit suicide.   Large farm sizes, modern agriculture technologies and rapid transportation systems are unable to sustain farming activities in those countries which offer huge subsidies of $ 100 billion every year to farmers in order to sustain farming.  They give relief after destroying the means of survival of their farm economy. Every two day, three farmers from France reportedly commit suicide due to indebtedness, farm failure and frustration; those nations have completely ruined their agriculture diversity in pursuit of wealth which in fact creates a crisis of unprecedented proportion. Now those countries want to invest more in agriculture in developing countries to meet their food demand which will cause the same damage to other countries without any risk because they can shift their investment to other countries after spoiling the agriculture diversity in one country. They have been doing this exercise for decades in small countries across the world. They are doing some unnatural things to agriculture in the name of modernization and innovation which will let the entire world plunge into a serious food crisis. If they want to survive they should restore crop and animal diversity in their own country instead of causing harm to others.

India has the clear advantage of having a large number of native crops which have survived the onslaughts of gene corruption, mono crop activities and unscientific methods of farming.  Many of those native crops have a very good domestic market and a few crops have good demand in foreign food bazaars. Unfortunately, India has not yet realized the full potential of the native crop market.  For example, pointed gourds and drumsticks grow abundantly in Odisha. Every village household has a drumstick tree in their backyard. Both drumsticks and pointed gourds have a very good market in Indian cities. Unfortunately the state has not given proper guidance and support to the villagers to sell pointed gourds and drumsticks in other Indian states.  Exclusive local varieties of basmati rice, Jamun,  mangoes, coconut, arecanut, small cashew, the famous variety of champa and patkapura banana etc also grow in Odisha which have a ready market in all Indian cities. 

Second, India has to document each and every native crop grown in different districts and villages across the country. The country has a treasure trove of naturally grown native crops whose medicinal and nutritional value is known to the developed nations who have engaged their representatives in India to import those crops at a far lower price. Without much knowledge about the quality of our native crops India allows export of tons of those precious wealth to foreign countries at a throw away price. Apricot from Kashmir goes to Germany for omega 3 extraction; Tulsi goes to USA and to many European nations and drumstick seeds are exported for its high medicinal value. Nobody knows how many crops go to foreign countries at a lower price. Developed nations outsource hundreds of native food crops and animal products at a far lower price causing immense food and revenue loss to India.  Let India have the knowledge and strength to maximize benefit for the farm producers without creating shortage and price rise in the country.

Third, Indian celebrities instead of running madly after the advertisement money should show a bit of patriotism by popularizing native Indian crops through advertisement.  If Amitabh Bachhan, Deepika Padukone, Akshay Kumar or Virat Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar and Rohit Sharma  etc show a bit of sympathy to our Arna Data and  tell people to protect native food crops and fertile agricultural land, millions of people will benefit from this little action.  India can avoid a looming food crisis and improve its position in the global hunger index. The government should come out with a strong law to protect and preserve the native food crop diversity of the country.  If popular political leaders tell people to protect and cultivate native food crops while addressing people, it would create a mass movement. Punjab was once the granary of India and the farmers of Punjab and Haryana are hard working; they can make agriculture a profitable venture with proper guidance and support.  Fourth, there is a need for dedicated research on the nutrition value of native crops. Agriculture universities across the country should be given a deadline to complete research on the native crops grown in their respective states. Media should popularize the native crops  through different channels so that all the efforts will converge on building a booming agriculture economy in the country.  The loss of crop diversity in the rich countries will make India as the chief food supplier on our own terms. There is no dearth of genuine farmers, agriculture researchers and volunteers in the country who can rescue agriculture from any crisis. 

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