Ragi …A Wonder Grain!

Written, by Aravinda Pillalamarri


Ragi … also known as millet, nachni, sollu, or sattemavu …
• grows well without irrigation, pesticides or fertilisers
• is rich in calcium, iron, protein and some rare nutrients such as methionine
• digests easily from infancy through old age, and its nutrients are highly absorbed
• costs less than wheat, rice, or dairy milk, while delivering superior nutrition

So it is no wonder that AID India and many other groups make ragi a cornerstone of health counseling programs that address malnourishment among young children and new mothers.  See the 2008 results from Srikakulam!

 While ragi is an ideal first food after an infant reaches at least 6 months of age, the impact of advertising is such that many people, not recognizing the value of their traditional homegrown, homemade food are choosing packaged infant foods made from refined wheat or rice, and even earlier than 6 months. Sprouting ragi increases the bioavailability of its iron to 88%, comparable only to mother’s milk (and 8 times higher than cow’s milk). Without always knowing the numbers, villagers and cityfolk have sprouted grains and beans for variety. When we lose these healthy habits, our traditional homegrown, homemade food needs a make-over.

Family in Srikakulam receives a packet of sprouted ragi flour

AID India Srikakulam workers take ragi packets door-to-door.  Does it help?  See latest report

Sometimes village volunteers also need to overcome the giggles when they talk about this hardy cereal, which seems so homely alongside pricey packaged biscuits, “energy” snacks and drink mixes.

Today a growing urban market seeks organic, sprouted ragi flour, ragi biscuits, etc. Jaws dropped in Srikakulam when I mentioned the price of organic, sprouted ragi flour in Mumbai shops – Rs. 100/kg. For only Rs. 1-2/kg they bought local organic ragi, sprouted it and ground it freshly at home. Unless they had already switched to commercial “baby foods,” which not only cost more, but do not deliver equivalent nutrition. They may contain added sugar, preservatives, and chemical residues. Moreover, poorer families may use these inferior but expensive substitutes sparingly, whereas if they were to eat ragi, the whole family, including the women, especially lactacting mothers, could have their fill.

Sad but true, this traditional staple grain is rapidly falling out of fashion! In fact, Deccan Herald reports that ragi:

“has lost 31 per cent of its cropping area…Unless the government policy changes drastically, dry land farming will die and so will dry land farmers.”  This endangers food security and livelihood security of the country. 

Farmer working in ragi field, Santakavita Mandal, District Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh.

Eat Healthy, Support Farmers.  AID India Srikakulam Ragi program has been procuring ragi to distribute to children through its malnutrition program .  Often we exhaust local supply and procure from neighoring mandals.  As demand increases, more farmers are planning to cultivate ragi in the coming season.

What other foods do we need to reincorporate into our lives to help live more lightly, keep small scale farming viable, keep healthy food affordable and keep ourselves and our planet healthy ?

As rural journalist P. Sainath has pointed out, jowar is another crop that is not only nutritious, but provides fodder for cows.  While the government has touted its “Cow Program” to relieve struggling farmers in Vidarbha, the farmers struggle even more to provide fodder for these cows.  One farmer noted that government support for jowar as a food grain would also provide fodder for the cows. Unfortunately neither ragi nor jowar are currently supported by the Public Distribution System (except in a few regions).  Times of India noted on Feb 28, 2007:  ” In many states, jowar, bajra and ragi are staple foods of the poor, but these coarse cereals are not covered by PDS. Poor people in these states end up eating wheat and rice. There is no export market for these coarse cereals either. So, prices of these cereals keep falling. The worst part is that these crops are grown by the very poor — marginal farmers on non-irrigated land. The very poor keep getting poorer as there are no takers for the foodgrains they grow — not even the poor.”

Rediscover traditional foods and sustain these for all!

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