A survey reveals a drastic fall in Garhwal Himalayan crop diversity. Compounding the seriousness of the situation is the lack of scientific interest in the loss
MANY varieties of crops in the higher Himalaya are rapidly disappearing, resulting in an alarming decrease in crop diversity in the Garhwal Himalaya, according to scientists at the G B Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development. The Garhwal Himalaya is a repository of many lesser-known and unexploited crops, but their variety is shrinking at an alarming rate, say the scientists.
A survey conducted by institute scientists R K Maikhuri, M C Nautiyal and M P Khuli showed the area under traditional crop cultivation has declined by upto 85 per cent since 1970. The crops involved are rye grass (Secale cereale), Indian buckwheat (Fagopyrum tatarium) and Indian barley (Hordeum himalayens) which grow in remote Himalayan villages like Niti and Mana, in the Alaknanda valley, situated at altitudes as high as 3,500 m.
While rye grass is commercially exploited for ergot, which has medical uses, the grain is also rich in protein and its flour is used locally as a substitute for wheat flour. Rye grass is used also as green manure and its straw is used for thatching.
Indian buckwheat, on the other hand, is a herb and its leaves are cooked and eaten as a vegetable. Its grain is an effective remedy for colic, diarrhoea and other abdominal complaints.
Indian barley is grown mainly in Bhotiya villages in the higher Garhwal reaches. Its grain is ground to make chapatis, roasted and ground to make a meal called sattu or brewed to make a drink called daru.
Other endangered plant varieties include Macrotyloma uniflorum, a highly nutritious pulse, Panicum miliaceum, whose grain is baked to make bread, and Amaranthus varieties.
The three scientists explained several factors are responsible for this genetic erosion. They include abandoning of traditional agro-ecosystems, socioeconomic and cultural changes, migration of the hill population to the plains in search of employment, introduction of high-yielding crops, replacement of mixed cropping by monocropping, deterioration of natural habitats caused by human-induced environmental changes, and a lack of scientific interest in these crops.
Their report proposed varieties of the endangered crops should be collected urgently and scientists should immediately undertake the collection and documentation of allied crops growing wild. A crop improvement and breeding programme based on the collected species would enable desirable characteristics of the collected species to be bred into hybrids for planting by local farmers who would be briefed on improved technologies such as mulching to conserve moisture, green manuring and spreading farmyard manure.
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