Grain drain: Cheapest cereals in India are the most expensive ones in

Discussion in 'Economy & Infrastructure' started by Vishwarupa, Aug 26, 2013.

  1. Vishwarupa

    Vishwarupa Senior Member Senior Member

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    WASHINGTON: What's cheap food for the poor in India is healthy and expensive nutrition for the rich in the west. India's cheapest grains, ignored, disdained, and disappearing in much of the country, are now much sought after cereals in America. They are priced some 500 times more than what New Delhi will supply its poor under the food security legislation.

    The UPA government's Food Security Bill promises the country's 810 million poor coarse grains (such as sorghum, pearl millet or bajra, and finger millet or ragi) at Rs 1 per kg. That's less than two US cents per kg at current exchange rates.

    In contrast, the same coarse grains in the US are priced at a staggering $10 (Rs 630) and above per kilogram.

    The high prices are mostly on account of low supply and growing demand for cereals such as quinoa and millets from health food faddists in the west. The nutritional quality of such grains is not a state secret; it has been known to ancient India and Africa for millennia, long before the arrival and popularity of wheat and rice.

    But the advent of Green Revolution, with its emphasis on wheat and rice, sidelined these traditional coarse grains, even as the scientific world exulted in its nutrient qualities. Endorsed by world bodies such as FAO and nutrition experts, off take of coarse grains has soared in the west even as it has declined in India and Africa, which are now overflowing with cheap wheat and rice.

    "Ragi cultivation has declined precipitously in the state," lamented Karnataka's US educated agriculture minister Krishna Byre Gowda, in a recent conversation with this correspondent. "Poor rainfall, plunging water tables, and changing preferences have all contributed."

    Karnataka is the leading producer of ragi in India, accounting for over 50 per cent of the production. Nationwide, ragi accounts for less than one per cent of the cropped area and cereal production; bajra is even less.

    Of course, many poor in rural India, habituated to an ancient diet, still prefer coarse grains. After the Karnataka government recently upstaged New Delhi by promising rice at Rs 1 per kg, many BPL families in north Karnataka (where jowar is the staple grain) and in old Mysore (where ragi is the staple), made it known that they preferred coarse grains to rice. The government has now promised that these grains will also be offered at Rs 1 per kg.

    Procurement will be a problem. Combined with declining domestic production, there are fears that much of India's coarse grains will end up being exported if the western craze catches on. Already, expat Indians have cottoned on to the health kick. Coarse grain and its flour are now available at the popular US-based Indian grocery chain Patel brothers: a 2-pound packet of bajri flour is priced at $2.99 (about Rs 200 at current exchange rate). Ragi is almost twice as expensive — a pound of ragi flour is $2.49. In contrast, wheat flour costs less than 50 cents a pound.

    But it's the prices at US health food outlets that are eye-popping. Even on Amazon.com, a 2-pound packet of ragi flour cost $12.10 (about Rs 800) as of Monday morning. How long Indian governments will be able to procure and process such "rich cereals for the west, poor grains in India" in the face of such skewed economics is something to chew on.

    How long before India embraces is struck by a grain drain, fully exporting its homegrown coarse cereal for a fine profit, and propelling more and more of its poor to eat rice and wheat?

    Grain drain: Cheapest cereals in India are the most expensive ones in US - The Times of India
     
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