May 5, 2009

Plants have become unhealthy, and so have you

You must be wondering as to what has happened to you food. You eat a lot or at least you eat enough and yet your body does not get the required nutrition, minerals and vitamins. You try to make it up with food supplements, and other nutritional foods that are available off the shelf, and you knowingly or unknowingly fall into health-related problems. The food in your food has simply disappeared.

The food equation has gone topsy turvy after the 2nd World War. Belive it or not, it is the intensive farming system that the Green Revolution promoted that has actually sapped the nutrients from your food. Your food is not only tasteless but is also devoid of nutrients. You fill your belly, but your body remains deprived of the building elements. Your body is like a tall building with a weak foundation, and you know what can happen to it.

The other day I was listening to an interesting radio programme called The Food Chain ( I have been off and on listening to it on the web ever since I was invited to be on the show some years back while I was travelling in California. I still recall how wonderful it was to be on this live radio show with Michael Olson, and with a number of callers asking you meaningful questions. Coming back, this programme entitled "The Missing Food in Your Food" made me go back to my university days, when we were taught that the high-yielding varieties (HYVs) that were being developed in the agricultural universities actually reduced the nutritional content in these varieties.

We were told that this was a small price to be paid for feeding the nation. The challenge before agricultural scientists was to increase crop productivity, which as you know is a genetic character and is directly proportionate to a fall in nutrition. In simple words, it means that the more productive a plant is, there is a proportionate decline in nutrients, minerals and vitamins.

In the past six decades, after the 2nd world War, of the 12 important nutrients that scientists studied, there has been a visible decline in six of them. The decline varies from 15 to 40 per cent on an average, with an high of 80 per cent decline in the availability of copper mineral. A shortfall in copper intake results in elevated cholesterol levels. There is a general decline in the availability of calcium and phosphorous in vegetables. The tragedy is that not many nutritionists know of this linkage.

In the radio programme it was told that in case of proteins in wheat, the decline is around 30 per cent. And that reminds me, when I was doing my post-graduation in plant breeding, I had collected some local wheat cultivars from Himachal Pradesh to understand the genotype-environment interaction. One wheat strain that I had picked up from the higher reaches of Chamba actually contained 14 per cent protein. The wheat that we eat today has an average protein content of about 9-10 per cent.

It is quite apparent that the development of HYVs took away the nutrition.

Now let us look at how it happened. It was sometimes in the 1940s and 1950s that scientists began to see the correlation between yield and nutrition. Post 1945, fertiliser use increased in the developed countries accompanied by a drop in the concentration of minerals. Later, with the advent of HYVs in the mid-1960s, and its spread in the developing world, the application of chemical fertilisers also went up globally. As I said earlier, scientists say that fertiliser intake showed a tendency for certain nutrients and mineral content to decline. Last week, another study showed that the increase in fertiliser application has also resulted in the disappearance of biodiversity.

As the soil became unhealthy, so did the plants. In fact, unhealthy soils means that the concentration of adequate minerals declines sharply. This is the primary reason for declining germination in case of wheat seeds. The seeds and the saplings do not get the minerals needed for germination. Soil nutrient deficiency has in any case reached appalling levels in the last few decades.

Anyway, the radio programme also referred to some studies done in UK at a research station in Rothamsted. I had visited this 160-year-old Rothamsted Research station ( some years back. This is the largest agricultural research centre in England and is considered to be the oldest agricultural research centre in the world. I think visiting Rothamsted (for any agricultural scientist or a student in agricultural research) is like going on a pilgrimage to Mecca. What it can teach you can for ever change your perception about modern agriculture, and the inherant destructive power of the intensive farming systems. You just have to see the 160-year-old experiments in sustainability, and you get your answers.

In the radio programme it was mentioned that between 1845 to 1960, studies at Rothamsted showed that the minerals and nutrients in soil as well as in wheat plants had remained stable. The amount of minerals in soils actually increased in some cases between this period because of the build up in organic manure. Which means, the sharp decline in plant nutrients actually came after 1960s. If only we had followed the wisdom of traditional farming system, the food we eat today would have been healthy.

Are we willing to draw any lesson? I doubt it.


Ramesh said...

It is a fact that today's food is deficient in nutrition, minerals and vitamins. Today, we achive food security but nutrition security is far away. But, million dollor question is that can traditional farming system feed the world's increasing population, and secondly, can traditional farming stop the famines.
Ramesh Dubey

Anonymous said...

Wonderful Devinder. I think when ever we talk about food crisis we have to tell this also. I think this foodlessness in food is leading to many health disorders .


Dr. Ernest Albert said...

"ARE WE WILLING TO DRAW ANY LESSON?I DOUBT IT." vicarious satisfaction here but 'logo ko koi far'k nahi padta.You are so right, we learn no lessons
We must accept that except in our villages,if people dont get dal,roti,chawal,idli,sambar,vadda,pao etc (whatever their local daily khana problem.That is singular to animals that they still scavenge for food stuff they like except
our Gau-Mata who feasts on plastic these days).
We are fast becoming the 'foods' we choose n eat.I cannot paste this research papaer here (2007) where these psychologists at Yale went on to prove (with animals) the co-relation of food and their day today behaviour.These chimps were fed on junk (? for 2 years and their behavioural patterns/consequences took u turns.BUT WE ARE HUMANS,SUPERIOR SPECIES, Devinder.Hum logo ko gas,aphara,road rage,blues,hypertension,insomnia,obesity,fatigue,ho hi nahi sakti.Children with white hair,impaired vision,obesity are on the increase.
Someday someone should do a study on Why We ,who run away from real issues,problems DO NOT RUN WELL IN OLYMPICS ? Itni saari cars,mobikes still no race driver.OH..oh I am digressing here.I dont know if the cave keeping mom was more caring, more modern than the ones we have today.The caveman was more strong and lived long and nature was never under any threat from them as it is today from me,an educated fella.
As I always say, keep writing/raising issues that need urgent addressals, at least they mean a lot to me.

Micah said...

I found this article doing research for my own blog post about the decline I've seen in the quality of medicinal plants over the last few years.

I'm not able to do scientific analysis & studies, but I do have years of extraction experience, and it is taking more and more raw material to get the same amount of quality extract. I'm seeing this with herbs from all parts of the world, and from organic, conventional, and even wild-harvested, all from good suppliers.

I'm not sure what to make of it, since the possible explanations regarding food plants are much different than in reference to medicinals, but it's a trend that really concerns me. I've asked my readers to chime in with any similar experience they have, hoping more information and networking will lead to some insights and solutions.

Thanks for posting this, and especially for the link to the Food Chain Program, it looks like a great program!


Ramesh Dubey said...

कभी जीवन की संध्‍या बेला में दस्‍तक देने वाला कैंसर आज बच्‍चे, बूढ़े, जवान सभी को अपनी चपेट में ले चुका है। देखा जाए तो कैंसर का सीधा संबंध हरित क्रांति से है। हरित क्रांति के दौर में एकफसली खेती की शुरूआत हुई जिसमें पशुओं की जगह मशीनों ने लिया तो देसी व हरी खाद की जगह रासायनिक उर्वरकों ने। उदाहरण के लिए हरित क्रांति के अगुआ पंजाब में गेहूं, धान व कपास के रकबे में अभूतपूर्व बढ़ोत्‍तरी हुई लेकिन ज्‍वार, बाजरा, मक्‍का, व मूंगफली जैसी फसलें भुला दी गईं। इससे फसल चक्र रूका और मिट्टी की उर्वरता तेजी से घटी जिसकी भरपाई रासायनिक उर्वरकों से की जाने लगी। इससे एक ओर खेती की लागत बढ़ी तो दूसरी ओर किसानों की आमदनी घटी जिससे वे कर्ज के जाल में उलझते चले गए। आगे चलकर यही वाकया पूरे देश में दुहराया गया। इसका नतीजा कैंसर की लहलहाती फसल के रूप में सामने आ रहा है। इसके बावजूद सरकारें कैंसर की जड़ को न दूर कर कैंसर अस्‍पताल खोलकर पत्‍ते से इलाज से कर रही हैं।

Raju Titus said...

जमीन में ताकत है तो हमारी फसलों में भी ताकत रहती है। अब जमीन में ताकत नहीं बची है यह ताकत जमीन की बार बार होने वाली जुताई से होने वाले भूमि छरण ,जल छरण और जैव-विविधताओं के छरण के कारण खतम हुयी है। जुताई करने से बखरी बारीक मिट्टी बरसात के जल के साथ मिलकर कीचड में तब्दील हो जाती है जो बरसात के पानी को जमीन में नहीं नहीं जाने देती है पानी तेजी से बहता है अपने साथ जमीन की जैविक खाद को भी बहा कर ले जाता है। यह कहना की जमीन की ताकत फसले खा लेती हैं गलत हैं और इतना नुक्सान रसायनो से भी नहीं होता है जितना जुताई से होता है। एक बार की जुताई से जमीन की आधी ताकत नस्ट हो जाती है हर जुताई से कई टन जैविक खाद बह जाती है। हम पिछले २७ सालों से बिना जुताई की खेती करते हैं जिसे हम ऋषि खेती कहते हैं। जुताई नहीं करने से जमीन में अपने आप ताकत वापस आ जाती है प्राचीन भारतीय देशी खेती किसानी में किसान घटती ताकत को वापस लेन के लिए खेतों को कुछ सालो के लिए पड़ती कर देते थे।

Dr. Purushottam said...

Its fact and worried, since soil are deficient in micro-macro nutrients therefore these are also low in plant, grains. ultimately we and animal feed these grains so these are lacking in us too. we we fall sick/ill we take capsule or tablets of zink, mg etc to recover . so the root cause is not plant but soil nutrient deficiency. lets have soil health cards and enrich soil through natural products and pulse crops in crop rotations.