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In Search of Alternate Staple Crop

February 6, 2011

In its latest ‘Food Outlook’ report, FAO urges international community to increase food production significantly. It also warns that if the international community fails to do so, then there will be severe shock in food supply and food deficient countries will be in deep trouble.

Instead of 1.2 percent expansion, predicted earlier, World Cereal Production is forecast to contract by 2 percent, which is due to unfavorable weather. Moreover,  World Cereal Stocks are forecast to contract by 7 percent. But the good news for Bangladesh is rice stock is forecast to increase by 6 percent.

Since prices of most of the commodities are high, farmers are increasingly leaning towards the cultivation of cash crops like cotton, soybean and sugarcane. This will further deteriorate the food supply and increase the food price. In the end, it is the consumer who will pay the price.

It has been forecast that total production of rice will be 467 million tones in 2010-11, 11 million tones higher than the production of previous year. But the price of rice might rise if prices of other food crops continue to rise.

There is nothing to worry for Bangladesh in not-so-distant future, but Bangladesh should take steps to stabilize  the price of rice. Price of coarse rice is an indicator of Government’s popularity in malnourished democracies. So apart from increasing rice production, we have to increase the production of alternate crops.

Besides rice and potato, following crops might enter into our daily menu:

millet

Millet :Millet grows well in arid and semi-arid region. It has been cultivated in neighboring Nepal and India. Flour can be used with Millet flour to make flat bread. Millet porridge is a traditional food in Russian, German and Chinese cuisines. It has also been used as animal feed.

Cassava: Cassava can grow in areas with low rainfall and poor soil.  It is the third largest source of carbohydrates.

cassava

For poor farmers, it is a reliable crop as it requires less care and less cultivation cost. Cassava has been being cultivated in some pockets of the northern part of Bangladesh. It can be used with flour to make bread, cake etc. It can also be fried. In addition, it has also been used as biofuel and animal feed.

Sweet Potato: Sweet potato is familiar to us. Its cultivation requires plenty of sunlight. Sweet potato contains complex carbohydrates and valuable minerals. So cheap sweet potato is precious in terms of food value! It can be used to make soup and noodle.

Amaranth: Once it was the staple food of the Aztecs. Limited cultivation takes place in USA and in India. Mexicans used it to make candy. It is also used as midday meal for school kids in Maharashtra, India.

Kamut: In ancient Egypt, Kamut was widely used. Now it is cultivated in limited areas of USA, Japan, EU, Australia and Vietnam.  Kamut contains all eight essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. It is also high in fibre, vitamins B and E, and several minerals. Kamut can be used to make bread, delicious snack, pasta, cake etc.

Spelt: Spelt, an alternate to wheat, had been cultivated in huge scale in ancient Egypt. Spelt flour can be used to make bread, pasta etc.

Apart from these, there are many crops which will help us to reduce our dependence on rice. We have to pick up one or two of these crops as an alternate to rice and go for mass cultivation. This will not jeopardize our food security in the face of soaring food price and sharp decline in food supply.

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