Hyderabad: Ever wondered why tomatoes are not as sour and karela as bitter as they used to be a couple of decades ago? Or why many Indians continue to suffer from nutritional disorders despite consuming wheat and rice in adequate quantities?
The answer is that Indian fruits, vegetables and food grains have lost their original nutritional values with agricultural scientists indiscriminately developing hybrid varieties. In their anxiety to develop crops that give high yields, scientists have been overlooking the importance of nutrient contents in the farm produce.
"Take the example of tomato and karela (bitter gourd). Both of them have lost their original nutritional and medicinal values because of hybridisation. These and other vegetables and fruits as also food grains like wheat now have nothing more than high water content and chaff," argues Sompal, eminent economist and former member of Planning Commission.
To support his argument, Sompal, who also worked as Union Minister of State for agriculture in the Vajpayee regime, says he had grown 13 varieties of wheat including six desi varieties in his farm. The wheat grains from all the varieties, both hybrid and non-hybrid, were sent to the laboratory of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research for analysis of their nutritional values.
"The laboratory report showed that the natural wheat varieties had more vitamins, minerals, proteins and gluten content as against the hybrid varieties which had more water content and chaff," Sompal pointed out.
Besides hybridisation, indiscriminate mining of zinc, iron and other minerals from the soil is also telling on the nutritional health of fruits and vegetables. Over half of the vitamin B1, B2, B3, E, folic acid, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, iron, and fiber have been lost.
As many as nine minerals have totally disappeared from the soil in many agricultural fields and this also explains for low content of nutrients in Indian foods.
Excessive use of chemical fertilisers has led to 80 per cent excess dependence on water for agriculture, observed Sompal, who was in the city to deliver a keynote address at a national seminar on agriculture at Osmania University here on Monday.
The next time you go to market to buy the "bitter" karela to fight diabetes or tomatoes to keep cancer away or apples for that proverbial good health, think twice. You may end up buying what Sompal says, "stuff with water and chaff and low nutritional profile".
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