Agri Business

Cultivation of iron-rich pearl millet gains traction as farmers turn health conscious

Our Bureau Chennai | Updated on August 23, 2013

Under the EBP programme, the Centre has asked the oil marketing companies (OMCs) to target 10 per cent blending of ethanol with petrol by 2022.

Over 30,000 farmers in the country have taken up cultivation of a new variety of pearl millet that is rich in iron. The variety was released for commercial use in Maharashtra last year.

Growers’ move to take up cultivation of the iron-rich pearl millet, marketed under the brand name Dhanashakti, is significant since they seem to have taken up the issue of iron deficiency leading to wide-spread anaemia in the country.

In guidelines for control of anaemia issued earlier this year, Unicef said that India is one of the countries where there is high prevalence of anaemia.

According to Unicef, 79 per cent of the children in the country below three years of age suffer from anaemia caused by iron deficiency. About 70 per cent of the children below five years of age are also affected by this problem.

Also, some 60 per cent of women aged between 15 and 49 are anaemic due to iron deficiency.

The iron-rich pearl millet was developed through conventional breeding by the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat) under the HarvestPlus Programme. The plant variety also provides more zinc, yields more besides being disease- and drought-tolerant.

According to Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute, results from a study under the HarvestPlus Programme indicate that children could get their full daily iron needs from just 100 grams of flour derived from this pearl millet variety.

According to the Food Policy institute, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition showed that pearl millet, called kambu in Tamil and bajra in Hindi, bred containing more iron could provide young children with their daily iron needs.

Pearl millet is an important staple food in semi-arid regions in the country, where iron deficiency is widespread. Lack of iron affects mental development and increases fatigue. Severe anaemia, due to iron deficiency, increases the risk of women dying during childbirth.

A study conducted among iron-deficient children showed that traditional food varieties such as uppuma and roti made from the new pearl millet variety helped them absorb more iron than from an ordinary millet variety. The additional zinc content also took care of the children’s daily zinc needs. Zinc shortage among children could lead to stunted growth and make them prone to common infections.

The research team was led by Michael Hambidge, Pediatrics Professor Emeritus at the University of Colorado in Denver. Hambridge said that the results of the study offer a potentially important, strategy to battle malnutrition.

On the Indian side, Bhalchandra Kodkany of Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College was the principal investigator.

The journal also said that a study conducted on marginally iron-deficient Beninese women found that they absorbed twice the amount of iron from this nutrition-tailored pearl millet.

Pearl millet is grown on some nine lakh hectares every year. During 2012-13 season that ended in June, its production dropped to a five-year low of 8.74 million tonnes against 10.28 million tonnes the previous season. The record production was in 2003-04 when 12.11 million tonnes were produced.

With the response from farmers being encouraging, farm scientists in the country are now trying to develop more iron-rich pearl millet varieties that will have even higher levels of iron.

Published on August 23, 2013

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