Remember the forgotten crops

This is my 1000th post on this blog. My 500th is here. I use my 1000th post to honour Monkombu Swaminathan, the scientist known as Father of the Green Revolution in India.

Here’s an interview with Fred Pearce at Bioversity International in which Dr Swaminathan urges us to remember the forgotten crops. These are the ‘orphan crops’ neglected by researchers and journalists after the Green Revolution of the mid-20th century.

Dr Swaminathan says, ‘Everyone is talking about using agriculture to improve nutrition. These crops are the answer.’ He calls for an ‘ever-green revolution’ with ‘crops that bring better nutrition, while needing less water and fewer chemicals and being resilient to climate change.’

I like the way Dr Swaminathan includes genetically modified (GM, genetically engineered, biotech) crops in his vision, but emphasises too the useful diversity in crops that are already being grown. ‘There are breadfruits from the Pacific and many others that crop scientists and world food markets have ignored for too long. They come in endless varieties, many of which are grown only in a few places but may have unique qualities the whole world could use. We have sorghum varieties rich in zinc; pearl millet rich in iron; yellow flesh potatoes rich in Vitamin A. Many nutrition problems could be solved with these orphan crops…

‘There is considerable genetic erosion still going on. We preserve seeds for posterity in gene banks… but we need them in the fields, too. That means scientists working with farmers. They are allies in the struggle for sustainable food security. But scientists have to be a bit humble, and realize that farmers are often the real experts…

‘On the one hand, we should promote an ever-green revolution to increase productivity of nutritious food that does not do ecological harm. That will mean using many more orphan crops. On the other hand, we have to increase the income of rural communities so they can buy food if their crops fail.’

The world’s population is expected to reach nine billion by the middle of this century, then to rise slowly or even to fall a little. Some say, therefore, that we need to grow more grains but Dr Swaminathan doesn’t agree. He says, ‘The world can certainly feed nine billion people. And feed them well, with more nutritious crops.’


About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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6 Responses to Remember the forgotten crops

  1. Rachel says:

    Wow…. 1000 posts! Well done, keep it up 🙂 Your blog keeps me up to date with all the latest issues and research!

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