Wednesday, January 16, 2019
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Posted at: Apr 9, 2018, 12:44 AM; last updated: Apr 9, 2018, 2:50 AM (IST)

Homecoming of forgotten foods

Forgotten traditional cereals like millets are gradually making a comeback as healthy, nutritious and environment-friendly alternatives to wheat and rice, says Vandana Shiva
Homecoming of forgotten foods

India is the land of diversity. Indigenous agriculture systems are based on biodiversity of crops, animals and trees. This biodiversity has sustained the health of the land and our health over centuries.

When chemical agriculture was introduced in India in Punjab in the 1960s it focused on chemically-grown dwarf varieties of wheat and rice, driving out the rich diversity of our crops, desertifying the soil and our nutrition.

The foods rich in nutrition, such as millets, were called "course grains", and abandoned. When I started "Navdanya" in 1987 to save seeds and biodiversity, I started with the "forgotten foods." Foods that are treasure troves of nutrition but have been forgotten in the monoculture obsession with white rice and white flour. Our millets like Barnyard millet (jhangora), finger millet (ragi), sorghum (jowar), pearl millet (bajra) and pseudo cereals like amaranth and buckwheat bring us nutrition with a very light ecological footprint.

Millets grow without irrigation on marginal soil and can be grown by the poorest farmers. Forgotten foods are thus the answer to real hunger disasters - hunger and malnutrition, poverty and climate change. My calculations show that we could grow 400 times more "nutrition" if we add forgotten foods to our diet. 

And in this period of "water wars" because of water scarcity, forgotten foods could create "water peace" and rejuvenate our rivers, our wells, our communities who are abandoning the land because of dying soils and disappearing water.

They are nourishing crops that give us nutrition and don't trap the farmer in debt. No millet farmer is committing suicide. Suicides are common among farmers who were trapped in debt because they bought costly Bt cotton seeds which failed to control pests. So they also bought costly pesticides.

Suicides have begun among potato farmers who are selling a 50 kg sack at Rs 10. We buy "Lays" chips at Rs 20 for a 50 gm packet. The farmer earns nothing, we eat junk food. India is now an epicentre of non-communicable chronic diseases. Forgotten foods are the answer to reversing this health disaster.

Forgotten foods also address the agrarian crisis because they are real foods, for which the farmer gets full value.

If farmers grow millets and forgotten foods, they can increase their income, and we can reclaim our health.

Let us make forgotten foods the foods of the future. Celebrate this gift of diverse, nutritious, healthy, organic food while contributing to the livelihoods and ecological practices of the communities of small and marginal farmers.

We can begin by stopping to refer to these superfoods and miracle foods as "course grains" or "primitive crops".

If each of us starts to eat forgotten foods, we will create the real freedom India needs - freedom from poisons, freedom from disease and malnutrition, freedom from farmers debt and suicides, and freedom from enslavement to "junk foods". 

Forgotten foods for future 

Finger millet/ragi: It has to be ground whole and used only as flour. It has nutritional advantage as this increases its fiber content.

Barnyard millet/Jhangora: De-husked grain of the millet is cooked like rice. This preparation with fresh curd or dal is a favourite food in the hills of Uttaranchal.

Sorghum/Jowar: It is ground into whole-meal flour; but grinding must be done as and when required as the flour tends to become rancid on keeping.

Pearl millet/bajra: It is consumed mostly after husking. It is cooked in the same way as rice, or is ground into flour and made into a thin or thick porridge in the same way as finger millet.

Buckwheat/kuttu: Buckwheat is a nutritional power-house. It is a pseudo-cereal. It is ground and used as flour. It can also be used whole.

Amaranth: It is the most nutritious and the oldest grain in the world. Pop the amaranth by dry roasting it in a pan/wok; press a cloth on it to stop it from flying around as it pops since it's extremely light. Millet flour can replace wheat flour partially or fully in most recipes. Since they are gluten free, they would be ideal for persons with gluten allergy.

- Dr Shiva is a trained physicist, an environmental activist, a food sovereignty advocate and an author

The Super Food

What are millets?

  • Pre-historic small-seeded grasses, cultivated as grain 
  • Grown on marginal lands in dry and harsh areas 
  • India and China are two principal producers of millets in Asia
Agro economics 

  • Millets require 70% less water than rice
  • Take shorter growing  period, around 65 days
  • Require no pesticides and minimal chemical fertilisers 
  • Therefore, mostly organic and environment friendly
  • Less input cost, grow in marginal lands with low rainfall 
Environmental bonus

  • They require less inputs like fertilisers and water compared to rice and wheat
  • Help in sustainable cropping practices and diversification of crops 
Coarse cereals covered under NFSM 

  • Maize, sorghum, barley, pearl millet, finger millet and small millets (Kodos, Barnyard, Foxtail, Proso, Little millet)
Nutritional value

  • Rich in proteins, dietary fibre, B complex vitamins, essential amino acids, folic acid and vitamin E
  • High in minerals like iron, magnesium, copper, phosphorous, zinc, calcium, potassium 
  • High in dietary fibre, give hunger satisfaction and reduce obesity
  • Reduce risk of diabetes and cardio-vascular diseases
  • Beneficial in prevention of gallstones and stomach ulcers 
  • Reduce anaemia, liver disorder and asthma
  • Hypo-allergic properties help prevent allergic reactions 
  • Relieve constipation 
  • Lower blood glucose response, reduce risk of type-II diabetes 
  • Rich in anti-oxidants and, hence, reduce oxidative stress
  • Reduce the risk of cancer 
  • Reduce the occurrence of hypertension
  • Non-glutinous and not acid forming foods


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