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India needs to switch crops to feed quickly growing population

Researchers are looking at ways to revitalize the agriculture industry so that crops are sustainable in their water use and continue to provide enough nutrients and food as demand continues to grow with population.

India is a country that already deals with severe nutrient deficiencies and 30 percent or more of its citizens are anemic.

Water shortages and drier and drier monsoon seasons are also causing problems with water and crop shortages and by 2050, India is expected have 394 million more people to feed.

A new study conducted by researchers from Columbia University examined ways to replace wheat and rice with other more nutrient-rich crops to see if it would impact water use and food demand.

In the 1960s, India experienced a green revolution and a boom in rice and wheat production helped reduce hunger but the increase in crops and agriculture also increased water use and greenhouse gas emissions.

The truth is that wheat and rice simply aren’t sustainable crops for India at this time as climate change and population increases continue to take hold.

The Indian government is working to reduce malnourishment while improving water use and the new study examined ways to make this possible.

“If we continue to go the route of rice and wheat, with unsustainable resource use and increasing climate variability, it’s unclear how long we could keep that practice up,” said Kyle Davis, the lead author of the new study. “That’s why we’re thinking of ways to better align food security and environmental goals.”

For the study, the researchers reviewed data on six major grain crops in India: rice, wheat, maize, sorghum, pearl millet, and finger millet.

Each crop’s water use and nutritional values were then analyzed and compared to see if any crops could be reduced or replaced.

As rice and wheat are the least sustainable when it comes to water use and the nutrients they provide, the researchers found that if rice was instead replaced with maize or millet it would have a significant positive impact.

The results show that replacing rice crops could reduce water demand by 33 percent and increase nutrient production or iron by 27 percent.

Both replacing crops and working with genetic modification to increase calories and nutrients of the crops grown would help lessen malnourishment and food shortages.

More research is needed before India makes any widespread policy changes, but the study shows that sustainable, nutrient-rich crops are a possibility for India in the future.

“If the government is able to get people more interested in eating millets, the production will organically respond to that,” said Davis. “If you have more demand, then people will pay a better price for it, and farmers will be more willing to plant it.”

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Kevin Krajick

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