Revival Of Indigenous Crops: Advantages And Challenges

The indigenous crops are popular and culturally known native varieties. Every region of the world has unique traditional foods that are widely consumed by a group of people, or by a particular community.

For instance, consumption of black walnut, wild rice, pecan, palmetto berries, squash, succotash, sofkee, and fajitas by the native American tribes; Kyo-no-dento-yasai, ishiru, yamato persimmon, and katsura-uri by the Japanese; and kolo, kita, dabo, beso, genfo, chuko, tihlo, shorba, kinche, and injera by the Ethiopians.

Indigenous crops

The traditional foods and cereal-based products that once occupied a part of the regular Indian diet are lost in time due to the emphasis on mono-cropping post-Green Revolution. The indigenous crops of India include several varieties of rice such as colored rice, aromatic rice, and medicinal rice varieties: millets, wheat, barley, and maize. The indigenous varieties of rice and millets are resistant to drought, salinity, and floods.

For example, Dharical, Dular, and Tilak Kacheri of Eastern India are adaptable to different topology, climate, and soils. The coarse cereals include sorghum, pearl millet, maize, barley, finger millet, and small millets like barnyard millet, foxtail millet, kodo millet, proso millet, and little millet.

The traditional rice cultivars have high nutrition than hybrid rice varieties. They are a good source of minerals and vitamins such as niacin, thiamine, iron, riboflavin, vitamin D, calcium, and possess higher fiber. Furthermore, these cultivars possess several health benefits such as reducing the risk of developing type II diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases by lowering the glycemic and insulin responses.

Kumbhar et al. report Tulshi tall, a landrace from Western Ghat zone of Maharastra, India, and Vikram, a landrace from Konkan region of Maharastra, showed moderate similarity in distinct differences in allelic combinations from other modern varieties.

This report also suggests that landraces and local genotypes and Basmati rice of India have a long and independent history of evolution, which makes these indigenous species more distinct from the modern varieties. Landraces are unique and well adapted to agro-climatic conditions of its original area of cultivation.

For example, Tulaipanji, an aromatic rice variety cultivated originally in cooler northern districts of West Bengal, India, lost its aroma when cultivated in the relatively warmer southern districts.

Jatu rice of Kullu valley, Himachal Pradesh, is prized for its aroma and taste. Matali and Lal Dhan of Himachal Pradesh are used for curing fever and reducing elevated blood pressure. Kafalya is a popular red rice variety from the hills of Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, used in treating leucorrhoea and complications from abortion.

In Karnataka, Kari Kagga and Atikaya are used to regulate body heat and also in preparation of a tonic whereas Neelam Samba of Tamil Nadu is given to lactating mothers. Maappillai Samba of Tamil Nadu is given to the newly wedded groom to increase fertility. Assam/North East parts of India use Assam black rice due to its anti-cancer properties while its bran is used to soothe inflammation due to allergies, asthma, and other diseases.

The varieties of Kerala such as Karinjan and Karimalakaran are rich in fiber and are known to reduce the risk of diabetes; Mundakan is consumed to increase the stamina; Vella chennellu and Chuvanna chennellu are consumed by pubescent, pregnant, and menopausal women, as it reduces problems associated with hormonal imbalances; Chuvanna kunjinelu is boiled with water and given to people who are suffering from epileptic fits, and Vellanavara and Rakthashali are consumed across India for its health benefits.

Sourirajan reports on certain varieties of Tamil Nadu such as Kar arici and Vaikarai samba imparts strength, Karunguruvai acts as an antidiuretic, Puzhugu samba quenches intense thirst, Senchamba increases appetite, and Kodai samba reduces rheumatic pain. Jonga and Maharaji varieties of Bihar and Chhattisgarh are given to lactating mothers to increase lactation.

Bora of Assam is used in the treatment of jaundice. Karhani of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand is used as a tonic in the treatment of epilepsy. Layacha is consumed by pregnant women to prevent unborn children from contracting Laicha disease. Gudna rice is used to treat gastric ailments.

These are some of the benefits of the few reported varieties, while many remain undocumented and unexplored. Foods such as roti, idli, dosai, puttu, aval, dhokla, khaman, selroti, adai, sez, kulcha, naan, and kurdi; sweets such as adirasam, anarshe, and jalebi; snacks such as murukku, and vadai; and infant formulations are made from major cereals.

Millets are resistant to drought, pests, and diseases. The growing season of millets is short, and the consumption of water for its cultivation is very less when compared to other cereals. Foods such as roti, dosai, and kuzh (porridge), snacks such as murukku, baby foods, ambali, wine, and health mix are made from millets. The polyphenols present in millets acts as antioxidant and boost immunity.

Lei et al. report fermented millet products as a natural probiotic used for treating diarrhea in young children as the whole grain possesses prebiotic activity, increasing the population of good bacteria in the gut to promote digestion. Millets provide protection against obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer.

Though millets possess various health benefits, the anti-nutrients present in millets weaken the absorption of nutrients. However, the anti-nutrients present in millets can be inactivated or reduced by soaking, cooking, germination, malting, removal of the seed coat, and fermentation, among others.

The revival of indigenous crops

From this research, it is evident that necessary measures should be carried out to conserve the indigenous species of the nation and also to carry knowledge to future generations by reviving the crops back into cultivation. The government of India may initiate the acquisition and management of germplasm of all indigenous varieties by the Indian National Genebank at the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), New Delhi.

Furthermore, the primary factors that contribute to the revival of indigenous crops include the passion of farmers, administrative measures initiated by the stakeholders, and the marketing strategies of vendors. Additionally, the knowledge about the health benefits of indigenous crops may also prevent their extinction and ensure the availability of these foods in local markets and the methods of cooking for future generations.

Nevertheless, the revival of indigenous crops is possible only when all the stakeholders define and bring these crops under a special category similar to the one initiated in Kyoto, Japan. In Kyoto Prefecture, the “native varieties” are categorized into “Kyo-no-dento-yasai,” and outside the prefecture, it is called “Brand-Kyo-yasai”.

Additionally, traditional food products of India may be collectively registered with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Food Heritages as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity similar to the registrations obtained for the washoku, traditional dietary culture of Japan; the kimjang and kimchi of Republic of Korea; the Le repas gastronomique des Français (the gastronomic meal) of France; the Mediterranean diet; traditional Mexican foods; and the ceremonial keşkek of Turkey.

India may also adopt a geological indication (GI) for the traditional products like the one followed in the European Union and Japan to provide the farmers with better access to the willingness of their consumers to try the traditional food products.

Advantages and challenges indigenous crops

The benefits of indigenous crops over the introduced HYVs include

  • cultivation of indigenous crops can make agriculture more genetically diverse and sustainable.
  • consumption of domestically cultivated indigenous crops can reduce the carbon footprints and imports.
  • the indigenous crops are highly adapted to the climatic conditions of the land.
  • consumption of indigenous foods contributes to food diversity and enrichment of diet with micronutrients provides health benefits due to the interactions between the inherited genes and food nutrients.

However, there may be few challenges in reviving indigenous species, which may include

  • farmers’ willingness to propagate indigenous varieties.
  • identifying the farmers with traditional knowledge of crop cultivation.
  • encouraging the farmers with large landholdings to cultivate indigenous crops.
  • awareness among the consumers and stakeholders about the ecological and health benefits of indigenous varieties.
  • support of the government to the farmers for the propagation of these crops on a small and large scale.
  • development of mechanization suitable for processing indigenous crops, as the existing machines are designed for the HYVs, and employing the same techniques for the processing of indigenous crops may lead to the loss of micronutrients and phytochemicals.

Source: Nelson, A. R. L. E., Ravichandran, K., & Antony, U. (2019). The impact of the Green Revolution on indigenous crops of India. Journal of Ethnic Foods, 6(1), 1-10.

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