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These five local crops are vanishing from India’s fields

Many varieties of indigenous, high-nutrition crops are disappearing across India due to a variety of reasons, from declining demand to difficulty in production 

Moth bean.
Moth bean. (Ananda Teertha Pyati)

When crops vanish, there is a dramatic decrease in agro-biodiversity. Be it south, central, east or north-east, across India, several indigenous crops are vanishing. Some are going out of community use as a result of the predominance of monoculture cultivation, while others are disappearing because of the preference for hybrid varieties. The lack of governmental support for indigenous varieties is also responsible. 

Underscoring the need to protect indigenous crops, Dwiji Guru of the Bengaluru-based Millet Foundation said that multi-cropped agricultural fields are sources of many uncultivated greens, and fulfil a variety of nutrition needs. “They also nurture a wide range of flora and fauna.” he says. “When certain varieties of crops disappear, the mini-ecosystem of insects, animals, birds and plants it supports will also die.” Here are five crops in danger of dying out.

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Moth bean

Region: Arid and semi-arid regions, especially central and north Karnataka

Reasons for decline: Consumers switching to toor dal, changing rainfall patterns, shift from multi-cropping to mono-cropping

Also known as matki dal (Vigna aconitifolia), moth bean has been replaced both in fields and on plates by toor or arhar dal, which has become a staple, though it is more expensive. Even agriculture universities have neglected the nutritious bean. Krishna Prasad, who runs the non-profit Sahaja Samrudha in Mysuru, said the government been promoting toor and moong to matki’s detriment. “Moth bean cultivation is reducing in Karnataka because of BT cotton, maize and sunflower.” Moth beans were cooked in dals, or sprouted and used in dishes such as Maharashtra’s misal.

Karhani rice

Karhani rice
Karhani rice (Hari Singh Sendram)

Region: Chhattisgarh’s Gaurela-Pendra-Marwahi district

Reasons for decline: Government promoting hybrid paddy, low yield, no MSP

Cultivated by the Gonds, this black paddy variety has a blackish husk while the rice is pink. “We adivasis have been cultivating it for many years. It grows in upland plots and flourishes even in areas receiving less rainfall,” says Hari Singh Sendram, a resident of Bhandi village. It is highly nutritious, but is becoming rare as the government promotes hybrid paddy varieties, he says. The yield comes to 1-1.5 quintals per acre, which is lower than paddy, and the price is lower too. It matures within two months when sown in monsoon. Most farmers prefer to grow crops that fetch the government’s minimum support price, he says.

Meher dhan

Meher dhan
Meher dhan (Akash Badave)

Region: Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district

Reasons for decline: No market, traders reject this black rice variety

“Some of us tried reviving this red rice with a black husk in 2016 as meher dhan needs less water since it is a dryland paddy variety. Two years back, we tried selling it but traders would not buy as it is black,” said Suresh Kumar Nag, a farmer from Kasoli village in Dantewada. It is an early variety, sown in June-July and is ready by October. Without a market, there is little motivation to grow it. Last year, Nag switched back to paddy—he doubled his yield and profits, he says. 

Kangu, Gathia and Janaha

Gathia (Susanta Dalai)

Region: Odisha’s Niyamgiri hills spanning Rayagada and Kalahandi districts

Reasons for decline: Lack of seeds, monoculture and commercial cropping

The Dongria Kondhs of Odisha have always cultivated a number of indigenous crops, including janaha (sorghum), gathia (pearl millet) and kangu (foxtail millet). Susanta Dalai, who works as an independent researcher with tribal farmers in the region, says the seeds of many crops once favoured by the Dongria Kondh adivasis are vanishing. Monoculture plantation of pineapple, ginger, turmeric and eucalyptus for commercial purposes are pushing these crops to extinction. “Tribals have a symbiotic relationship with these crops. When they lose one crop, they lose a bit of their culture as well,” says Dalai. “For instance, when they harvest finger millet, the Dongria Kondhs celebrate. Without the crop, the festival is not observed.” 

Khaw pnah saw 

Khaw pnah saw
Khaw pnah saw (NESFAS)

Region: Meghalaya’s Jaintia hills and Ri-Bhoi district

Reasons for decline: Preference for white, non-sticky rice, labour-intensive cultivation 

This red sticky rice, or Oryza sativa glutinosa, is an indigenous variety cultivated on a small scale by the Bhoi, Khasi, Jaintia and Garo tribes of Meghalaya, and is now only served at weddings, funerals and celebrations. “For daily meals, people now prefer varieties that are softer and not so sticky. It is also labour intensive to grow this paddy and the market demand is not high,” says Gratia E Dkhar, lead associate in agro-ecology and training at North East Slow Food & Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS) in Shillong. Redian Syiem, a farmer from Khweng in Ri-bhoi district, suggests that the community save the seeds to preserve the crop. Folk rice varieties are important for the environment as they adapt well to local conditions, are rich in micronutrients and contribute to crop diversity, says Dkhar.

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