Mobilizing Neglected and Underutilized Crops to Strengthen Food Security and Alleviate Poverty in India
The M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai in collaboration with Bioversity International, Rome has been implementing a project on neglected and underutilized crops with the support of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, Rome. The neglected and underutilized crops chosen for this study included finger millet (Eleusine coracana), Italian or foxtail millet (Setaria italica) and little millet (Panicum sumatrense). Two locations where these crops have been traditionally under cultivation and intrinsically linked with food security, livelihood and cultural identity of local tribal communities, were chosen as target sites. These crops by virtue of their extremely high resilience to the harsh agro-climatic conditions, particularly in marginal soils, hilly terrain and under aberrant rainfall, are well adapted to offer a dependable level of food security to the poor. They are also valued for their better nutritious profile of the grains and high quality straw. The grains have high bio-available minerals, particularly calcium and iron, vitamins, dietary fibre, and other phyto-chemicals. Their unique physico-chemical composition renders them slow digestible and with low glycemic index, which is a valued nutraceutical property in food grains. The long shelf life of these grains is also an attribute preferred by the communities living in regions characterized by poor communication.
A unique aspect of this study was that major activities were carried out in farmer participatory mode with a location specific blend of traditional and scientific know how. Major activity components and their outcome in enhancing food and nutritional security and income generation of the communities discussed in the paper are participatory seed selection, shift from marginal to modern crop management, seed selection and quality seed production and sharing, promotion of local landraces, value addition of grain and value chain development to achieve enhanced income, particularly to farm women, multifaceted capacity building, strengthening of common property local infrastructure and creation of community institutions for building sustainability to the change. The paper also discusses the increasing relevance of these crop species in the context of advancing climate change.
Food security, Underutilized crops, Millets, Value addition, Participatory variety selection, Gene-seed-grain bank, Self help groups, Landraces.