Kerala is betting high on tuber crops to tackle food inflation. While the State Biodiversity Board is readying two tuber crop cultivation hubs, Central Tuber Crops Research Institute (CTCRI) in Sreekaryam has been working on a slew of projects to come out with easy-to-cook and ready-to-use food products from tuber crops.
“We have taken up a project to preserve and give value-addition to the diversity of tuber crops in two areas in Kerala and to create a gene bank. The first would in Edavaka in Wayanad district and the second in Onattukara in Alapuzha district,” says KP Laldhas, member secretary, Kerala State Biodiversity Board (KSBB).
“As many as 13 tuber crops species have been picked up in Onattukara. These include crops like colocasia and greater yam,” he told FE.
In a pilot project in Edavaka in 2013, as many as 60 tuber varieties were documented in the Panchayat Biodiversity Register. These were cultivated in public land and schools. The success of the pilot project has stimulated extending this cropping pattern to more viable areas.
The state government is on a studied mission to improve agricultural productivity as the share of agriculture in Gross State Domestic Product has been steadily declining from 36.99% in 1980-81 to 8.95% in 2012-13. This also tallies with the inflation in rice, which is the staple diet of the state. The price of rice which was R12 per kg in 2010 has surged to about R40 per kg.
“To steer clear of malnutrition due to soaring food prices and changing food and lifestyles, more dietary importance should be given to locally available nutrient-rich tuber crops like sweet potato and tapioca,” says Dr K Narayanan Nair, former director, Centre For Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram.
Meanwhile, in tune with the farming trends in tuber crops, scientists at CTCRI have developed a whole range of food products, including functional foods and modified starch products, based on starch-rich tubers like cassava, sweet potato and yam. Cassava is said to have been first imported from South America to Travancore in early 1930s by the former princely state that later emerged as South Kerala, to tackle the famine and food inflation that accompanies the era recorded in economic history as the “Great Depression”.
“Following urbanisation and changing food patterns favouring fast foods, the nutritional importance of tuber crops had been neglected,” says Dr G Padmaja, head, Crop Utilisation, CTCRI. The new project has put together several nutritionally-fortified pasta products from sweet potato, linking nutrition with new food habits.