Tradition taking on malnutrition: Indian region reintroduces cultivation of traditional crop

By Cheryl Tay contact

- Last updated on GMT

Mandia, or finger millet, is an annual herbaceous plant commonly grown as a cereal crop in parts of Asia and Africa, and used to be consumed widely by tribes in India. ©Getty Images
Mandia, or finger millet, is an annual herbaceous plant commonly grown as a cereal crop in parts of Asia and Africa, and used to be consumed widely by tribes in India. ©Getty Images

Related tags: Crops, India, Malnutrition

The Agriculture Department of Odisha, India, has rolled out a programme to promote the cultivation of mandia (finger millet) as part of its efforts to fight malnutrition among tribal peoples in the state — especially women and children.

Mandia​, an annual herbaceous plant commonly grown as a cereal crop in parts of Asia and Africa, used to be consumed widely by tribes in India.

However, cultivation dwindled when government initiatives to boost overall nutrition resulted in the widespread supply of rice under the Public Distribution System (PDS). This led to the tribes selling the cereal for pittance and turning their attention cultivating other cash crops for a living.

Cultivation reintroduction

Now, with the help of modern technology, the Odisha state government is aiming to reintroduce the cultivation of mandia ​in the Rayagada district, starting in the municipalities of Gudari and Gunpur.

The district administration began what is dubbed the Millet Mission in these towns last year, with five more blocks now chosen for the cultivation of mandia​ this year.

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According to sources close to the Agriculture Department, the goal is to produce a minimum of 708,500kg of mandia ​— which is rich in calcium, iron and vitamins — in Rayagada this year.

In a bid to achieve this goal, the department will organise a sensitisation and training camp for farmers, where they will be educated on modern cultivation techniques, quality production, and fare average quality (FAQ).

Ashok Kumar Patra, GM of the Tribal Development Cooperative Corporation of Odisha, said the minimum support price for mandia​ had been set at US$40 (Rs2,897) per 100 kg, adding that the Primary Agriculture Cooperative Society (PACS) would collect FAQ mandia​ from across the district.

Tuku Barik, project administrator of the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (Rayagada), said the cultivated mandia ​would be used to make cakes, biscuits and other such snacks, with the aid of self-help groups in Rayagada.

Eschewing the common

Unlike many other Indian states and districts — such as Haryana​, and the 118 districts​ under the national government's direction — which have opted for food fortification to fight malnutrition, Odisha's state government has instead opted to help local farmers to cultivate a traditional crop.

This is likely because such an initiative will not only help to combat the prevalence of malnutrition, but also encourage employment and self-sufficiency.

In July, we reported on a similar project​ being conducted in India, albeit on a considerably larger scale and in the private sector — to tackle the double burden of malnutrition, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) had developed a bio-fortified variety of sorghum, named Parbhani Shakti, for farmers to cultivate.

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