Monday, May 31, 2010


It is an irrefutable fact that the gross nutritive value of food grains like wheat, rice, legumes and others has been coming down during the last 200 years of cultivation due to a variety of factors, some perpetuated by humans and others beyond their control. Massive use of chemical fertilizers, often not in optimal concentration and imprecise monitoring of the soil condition, high intensity of cultivation, mono culture crop practices, increased CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, all have contributed to this state of affairs. Of course agriculture scientists have not been lagging behind in evolving newer varieties but their focus has been more on yield rather than nutrition. If world is able to produce sufficient food to theoretically meet the satiety needs of the entire population, credit goes to agricultural scientists of yesteryear. It is another matter that due to social inequity, there is widespread hunger prevalent in many parts of the world, because those who are hungry do not have the economic means to buy their minimum needs of food grains.

Added to this misery is the massive diversion of grains for production of biofuels in countries like the US and those in the EU that has the effect of destabilizing the global food market making imports by needy countries dearer and beyond their reach. The meat and poultry industries pile upon more miseries by feeding the meat animals with food grains which otherwise could have gone for human consumption. It is not acknowledged that producing meat from animals using the food grains is one of the most inefficient conversion processes, each 100 kilogram of grain (< 12% moisture) yielding less than 12 kilograms of meat (> 70% moisture), rest being wasted. That animal production is responsible for substantial emission of green house gases is well documented.

While farmers in developed countries have reached their maximum potential vis-à-vis land productivity, Asia, Africa and South America lag behind them, having no economic resources to invest on new technologies, tools and practices that can help them to come out of the "yield trap". It is ironical that the "suspect" GM crops are being pushed into these underdeveloped regions as a solution to low productivity though it is known that GM crops are input intensive and non-sustaining, not affordable to poorer nations. GM crops may be relevant to the developed world since it is based on a clean technology and this may be the only route for them to achieve greater productivity via cutting down on losses in the field due to pest activity. The food grains produced under GM technology are already in use in the countries where they have been developed without bothering to know the long term adverse consequences, if any, of their consumption

It is now realized in Europe that wholegrain bread and other wheat products can be full of components that are good for health and this has led to renewed efforts to upgrade the nutritive content of wheat through research. It does not need much of an insight to understand that the amount of dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals that can be sourced from wheat varies substantially from one variety of wheat to the next, with some varieties providing with as much as four times more goodness. Adapting existing varieties of wheat or evolving new varieties can confer more health benefits. The late realization on the part of some of the developed countries may hopefully spawn more developmental efforts in future to evolve naturally nutritious varieties rather than allowing the industry to fortify the products with synthetic nutrients of uncertain efficacy.



Tim, Lisa, Trenton, and Grant said...

Extremely interesting blog. Thanks.

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