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Women working in their rice paddy fields in Odisha, India. Odisha is the poorest region of India, where people have not benefited from the booming national economy. Trócaire works with communities to help them access government support. (Photo: Justin Kernoghan)
Food & Hunger

India Might Have to Stop Growing Rice, Experts Warn

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Our global food system is broken — whether it’s the amount of food that’s going to waste, or the rising levels of both obesity and hunger. But how we produce our food is also having a devastating impact on the environment. That’s why finding solutions like these, that address multiple of the UN’s Global Goals, is so important. You can take action here to help combat malnutrition, and drive efforts toward sustainability.

New research has suggested that if India swapped rice for more sustainable food sources, it could help improve nutrition and the environmental impact of agriculture. 

Cereal crops — specifically rice and wheat — are a staple food in India, and around the world. Some 3.5 billion people depend on rice or more than 20% of their daily calories. 

And yet, these popular foods could be responsible for making two of the country’s key issues worse: malnutrition, and water shortages. 

Take action: Urge World Leaders to End Hunger and Malnutrition

They're issues we have to get right — with an ever-expanding global population, pressures on both our food and water supplies are going to increase. 

“Humanity faces the grand challenge of feeding a growing, more affluent population in the coming decades, while reducing the environmental burden of agriculture,” said the new report, published in the journal Science Advances

One solution, suggests the report, could be to switch to crops that are healthier, more nutritious, and more sustainable. 

Read more: Increased Carbon Dioxide Levels Could Lead to 125 Million Years of Life Lost

The research looked at six grains grown in India: rice, wheat, maize, sorghum, pearl millet, and finger millet. Of all of these, it discovered, rice is the least water-efficient cereal crop to grow, and wheat also plays a significant role in driving agricultural irrigation. 

Based on the country’s struggle with malnutrition — with around one-third of the population suffering from anaemia — the researchers also examined the nutrition value of the different crops. They specifically looked at calories, protein, iron, and zinc.

Their results indicated that replacing the current crops with maize, finger millet, pearl millet, or sorghum would not only reduce irrigation water demand by 33%, it would also improve the production of protein by 1%, of iron by 27%, and of zinc by 13%.

Read more: 8 Foods You Probably Didn't Know Were Bad for the Environment

The report concluded that efforts to blend food security with environmental goals “offer promise” for achieving a global food system that is more sustainable. 

“By adopting a similar multidimensional framework, India and other nations can identify food security solutions that can achieve multiple goals simultaneously,” said the report.

And achieving that goal can’t come soon enough. By 2050, India’s population will have grown by an estimated 400 million people. 

Meanwhile, according to former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, “every country in the world is facing a malnutrition crisis” — from famine to obesity.

Read more: Hunger and Malnutrition Reach 'Record Levels' in the World's Youngest Country

Of the countries surveyed in the Global Nutrition Report 2017, 88% were found to be facing a “serious burden” of two or three forms of malnutrition. It also found that some 2 billion adults globally are overweight or obese, and 41 million children are overweight. 

At the same time, world hunger is rising for the first time since 2000. The number of chronically undernourished people rose from 777 million to 815 million between 2015 and 2016, with the increase largely down to conflict and climate change.