Alternative cereals can save water: Study

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According to recent study, if Indian farmers make big switch from growing rice and wheat to alternative cereals such as maize, sorghum and millet, it could reduce demand for irrigation water by 33%. This could also improve nutritional availability to consumers.

Methodology of study

The study was conducted by researchers from US based Earth Institute, Columbia University and Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. For their analysis, they had considered water as well as cereal-production data from 1996-2009 (period when cereal production grew by 230%). They had used proxy — Crop Water Requirement (CWR), which is product of water required by crop and harvested area to calculate water consumption in every district in this period, as actual water consumption data was not available.

Key Findings of Study

The combined production of alternative cereals was larger than that of wheat in the 1960s, but their relative contribution to cereal supply has steadily dwindled. These alternative cereals also disproportionately account for supply of protein, iron, and zinc among kharif crops.

The rice is the least water-efficient cereal when it came to producing nutrients, and was the main driver in increasing irrigation stresses. Replacing rice with alternative cereal production with maize, finger millet, pearl millet, or sorghum could save irrigation and improve production of nutrients such as iron by 27% and zinc by 13%. It can help distribute nutrient production across the country and reduce impact of single local climate shock to national grain production.