Replacing rice and wheat with ‘less thirsty’ crops could dramatically reduce water demand in India, while also improving nutrition, a study has found.
“If we continue to go the route of rice and wheat, with unsustainable resource use and increasing climate variability, it is unclear how long we could keep that practice up,” said Kyle Davis from Columbia University.
The researchers studied six major grains currently grown in India: rice, wheat, maize, sorghum, and pearl and finger millet.
For each crop, they compared yield, water use, and nutritional values such as calories, protein, iron, and zinc.
They found that rice is the least water-efficient cereal when it comes to producing nutrients, and that wheat has been the main driver in increasing irrigation stresses.
The potential benefits of replacing rice with alternative crops varied widely between different regions, depending on how much the crops could rely on rainfall instead of irrigation.
However, the researchers found that replacing rice with maize, finger millet, pearl millet, or sorghum could reduce irrigation water demand by 33 per cent, while improving production of iron by 27 per cent and zinc by 13 per cent.
In some instances, those improvements came with a slight reduction in the number of calories produced, because rice has been bred to have higher yields per unit of land.
For now, rice replacement is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but something that should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis for each district, Davis said.
The team, including Ashwini Chhatre from the Indian School of Business, wants to study Indian food preferences, to see if people would be willing to incorporate more of these alternative cereals into their diets.PTI
If we continue to go the route of rice and wheat, with unsustainable resource use and increasing climate variability, it is unclear how long we could keep that practice up
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