While the last few days have witnessed lower levels of air pollution in Delhi, we’re surely still in the danger zone. Last week, I spoke about the many foods that serve as an antidote to the harmful effects of air pollution on the body, but it is high time we think of longterm, preventive solutions to the problem that rears its ugly head every year at this time.
The use of machines that get rid of the crop stubble and use it for composting, thereby preventing stubble burning, has been talked about extensively. Yet another very effective preventive strategy, which may seem unconnected, is to adopt millets in our diet. Apart from the benefits of eating millets, there are also many advantages offered by the agricultural practices of its cultivation. The cultivation of millets, in addition to wheat and rice, introduces diversity in crop plantation and serves as an indirect way to reduce air pollution. Lack of diet diversity is also one of the major reasons for malnourishment that prevails in our population and in the world.
The diversification of crops, through the inclusion of millets, will eliminate the need to burn the stubble, hence control the pollution caused by it. In India, rice and wheat are the two major crops grown. Rice is a water-guzzling crop, hence its sowing is matched with the monsoon season, leaving little time between paddy harvesting and wheat sowing. Hence farmers resort to burning of the crop residues to hasten the preparation of the fields. If millets are cultivated, there will be no such issue.
I have been rooting for the adoption of millets into the daily diet, also in view of the planet’s health. These grains require much less water to grow and are hardy, pest-resistant crops. Also resistant to the onslaught of cold, drought and salinity, millets are suitable for cultivation on dry and arid land. These qualities make this crop the ideal choice – nutritionally and environmentally. Growing millets also provides food security to the nation. For our ever-increasing population that is also malnourished in many respects, millets on the plate is a clear and promising solution.
The unique nutritional character of millets is worthy of reams, and I have tried to put it all in a nutshell here. Millets are a natural source of iron, zinc, calcium and B-complex vitamins. Abundant in antioxidants and immune modulators such as polyphenols, lignans, phytosterols, phyto-oestrogens and phytocyanins, millets possess many medicinal properties.
The complex carbohydrates and dietary fibre in millets are valued as solutions to many chronic lifestyle diseases. Many assume that millet is a single variety of grain, but there are over 500 varieties! Pearl millet (bajra), sorghum (jowar), finger millet (ragi), kodo millet, barnyard millet, little millet, proso millet and foxtail millet, are some familiar millet names. Bringing millets back on the table has not been easy. Some food companies that retail nutritious, ready-tocook pancakes and dosas have helped popularise millets. But it is about time that the Public Distribution Systems and Mid-Day Meal programmes also adopt these noble grains to enable their revival and popularity.