Cereal killer

By promotong rice over coarse grains, the government is promoting food scarcity and defeciency of micronutrients among India's most malnourished sections

Published: Tuesday 15 May 2001

Cereal killer

-- Charity for the poor is not always a virtue, more so if food security is at stake -- the best way is to help people help themselves. But this wasn't the objective of the late N T Rama Rao, former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh. He fulfilled his election promise of providing cheap rice to everyone through the government public distribution system ( pds ) at Rs two per kg. "Rice isn't the staple food in this area," says Salome Yes Das, training associate of the Krishi Vigyan Kendra at Zaherabad in Medak district of the state. "It was introduced through the pds . With rice available at as cheap a price as Rs two per kg, farmers lost interest in their agriculture and lands become fallow. Some of them started selling their lands to rich farmers. It clearly showed its impact on the economic, social, cultural and ecological fronts." Most people in the area are aware of the fact that rice is not as nutritious as traditional coarse grains (see box: Nutrition attrition ). But rice has become a status symbol after its promotion by the government, especially among children.

Ask Ghadappama, an old lady from Kalbemal village of Medak district: "We eat jowar (sorghum) roti. But the children ask for rice now. This is the era of rice." Another resident, Mohammed Mainodin, says, "If rich people can eat rice then why not our children. pds does not provide us sufficient rice. We do not have enough money to buy even the cheap rice. So we give them kanki (broken rice grains), which is cheaper." Siromani, a farmer from the same village, says, "I have some water in my fields and have started growing paddy for our use. Our children go to school and they say that children from rich families bring rice. They, too, want to eat rice." Nagamma an old lady from Mamidgi village of Medak, says, "Earlier we used to eat bajra (pearl millet), sama (barnyard millet) and kangani (foxtail millet). We began eating rice only when N T Rama Rao started providing it cheaply. Now children prefer rice. But jowar is good no doubt. We can't do without jowar roti. It helps prevent diseases." Sadly, her wisdom is lost on seven-year-old Priti, who prefers rice because it looks better than jowar .

In Pastapur village, about 100 km west of the state capital Hyderabad, Tuljmma, mother of two, says, " Jowar roti is very good for work and stamina, but we have taken to rice for the taste. We started eating rice only after the pds shop began selling it. But even today, we give roti of yellow jowar to people who have become weak due to some disease". The craze for rice has taken its share in the fields as well. Narshmma of Kalbemal says, "We now grow paddy in irrigated lands for our use." P A V Udya Bhaskar, special commissioner with the state's department of rural development, says, "We have started watershed development programmes for integrated rural development by improving rainfed agriculture. Whenever farmers see water, they first go for paddy, then for commercial crops like groundnut, chilli, cotton, castor. The traditional crops don't provide sufficient economic returns. The shift from jowar to rice is quite visible in some areas."

Going without a healthy meal
Prevalence of malnutrition among pregnant women and
children (aged 1-4) in select states in India (in percentage)
State Underweight Stunted Wasted Anaemia
Andhra Pradesh 49.1 NA* NA 47.0
Assam 50.4 52.5 17.5 NA
Bihar 62.6 60.9 10.8 81.0
Gujarat 44.1 43.6 21.8 84.0
Haryana 37.9 46.7 18.9 95.0
Himachal Pradesh 47.0 NA 5.9 NA
Jammu and Kashmir 44.5 40.8 NA NA
Karnataka 54.3 47.6 14.8 NA
Kerala 28.5 27.4 17.4 NA
Madhya Pradesh 57.4 NA 11.6 NA
Maharashtra 52.6 46.0 NA 87.0
Orissa 53.3 48.2 20.2 NA
Punjab 45.9 40.0 21.3 NA
Rajasthan 41.6 43.1 19.9 98.0
Tamil Nadu 46.6 NA 19.5 54.0
Uttar Pradesh 49.8 49.2 NA 80.0
West Bengal 56.8 43.2 16.2 NA
INDIA 53.1 52.0 11.9 NA

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