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Invisible Injustice - 81

Invisible Injustice - 81

Hunger is the worst evil in the humanity. What all things are happening in our country due to hunger? Parents sell their children; humans fight with dogs for food waste in the garbage bins; millions of children are born with congenital defects; millions are becoming TB patients every year and many more are going through a slow death and so on so forth. Till today we have considered it only as a social evil; but in my last write up on “Rice and Wheat Based Hunger in India” I have shown that rigid individual preference to rice and wheat, as the only staple foods, results in perpetuating hunger. Today nutritional science has clearly shown that various types of tubers are better substitutes for rice and wheat. This write up is an urgent request to the people of this country to adopt tuber crops as their staple food at least once or twice a day instead of rice and wheat which are in shortage of production and the availability of the same through PDS is becoming more and more impossible dream. Let me begin with an example of food adoption within our own country though it is not the ideal. The readers may note that in this write up I am only dealing with some substitutes for rice and wheat as staple foods to eradicate hunger and not mal-nutrition or undernourishment. There will be another write up on how to tackle mal and under nutrition among the grain and tuber crop consumers as their staple food.

Kerala is one of the smallest states in India and its population as estimated in 2017 is about 35 million. Their total grain requirement per year at the rate 0.5 kg per day per person, amounts to 65 lakh tons per year including the unavoidable waste at various points of transport and storage. The Keralites being rice eaters used to cultivate paddy in the low lying areas of their State and were nearly self sufficient in their rice requirement. But at present the State is producing only 6 lakh tons. It imports about 34 lakh tons of rice every year from other states and the rest of the grain requirements of about 25 lakh tons is met mainly by tapioca and the imported wheat from North India. Tapioca also known as cassava is a tuber crop brought to Kerala by the Portuguese and is being cultivated there since then. Many in Kerala eat cassava at least one meal a day. The rice eating people of Kerala adopted also wheat based food items like chapattis, uppumavu, stuffed parotta, layered parotta, rumali roti etc. Among them layered parottas made of maida have become very popular. Originally it was introduced by the Sri Lankan workers in Tuticorin from where it spread to other parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It goes well with the meat eating habit of Keralites though nutritively and from health point of view such a food habit is rated as very poor of which I shall describe in the coming write up.  

In food adaptation the Kerala population is an example to others in India and it is considered second most hunger free-state in our country after Punjab. Punjab is hunger free due to more than enough production of wheat and rice, whereas Kerala people are hunger free due to the high adaptability to food items other than rice which was staple food for centuries. We often hear that if tapioca was not there in Kerala at least half the people there would have been in starvation. With 65 lakh tons of grain requirement and the production potential is only 6 lakh tons per year, Kerala would have been the place where maximum people suffered hunger. It is their adaptability to other foods that saved them from hunger. They have shown that against all conventional thinking, tuber crops and wheat can be substitutes to their traditional habit of rice consumption. The same can be applied at the national level in India to overcome the shortage of rice and wheat and to eradicate hunger from India. Hence the best way to eradicate hunger from India is to promote replacement of rice and wheat with tuber crops. There should be a national level campaign by the government and all the socially minded people in our country to promote the idea of substituting cereals with tuber crops. Now let us see which are the tuber crops, that can be substitutes for rice and wheat to eradicate chronic hunger from India.

Potato, tapioca, yams and sweet potato are the common tuber crops that can be consumed as staple food by any one instead of rice and wheat or any other cereals and millets. Staple food refers to foods that are consumed by people to fulfill their daily requirement of energy. From ancient times humans thought of food consumption primarily for their daily energy requirement. It is only in the last century that people began to be conscious of the foods for protein, vitamins and minerals in their food intake. Hence there are protein foods like pulses, meat, fish and egg and various types of vegetables and fruits which provide vitamins and mineral foods. In this write up let me restrict only on the staple foods consumed for daily energy requirement and to the concern of eradicating hunger among the poor common people in India.

1. Potato occupies the first place in production among the tuber crops in India. We produce about 45 to 48 million tons of potato per year and the production potential is still higher. At present there is a glut in the market forcing the potato farmers in West Bengal and adjacent states to commit suicide due to loss they are incurring. Presently potato is used by common people in India only as vegetables that too mainly in the North India. Potato is rarely used as vegetables by people in South India. But it is extensively used as fried items both in the North and South India. Potato is used as a staple food and as a source of energy in many countries in Europe and it can be used as a staple food in India too. There are many varieties of potatoes cultivated in India and tubers are available all over India any time of the year as they are grown and harvested in some parts or other of the country. In many respects potato is a better food item than rice and wheat because during milling all the nutrients in them except starch are lost. Potato can replace the rice and wheat completely as a staple food. They can be stored in fresh form in well aerated dark storages with high humidity (85-90%) and low temperature range of 4 to10 degree centigrade. There are ways of storing parboiled potatoes in dried up form for future use. Though potato chips and other forms of wafers are very popular it is not yet used as a staple food especially among the low income groups. To promote potatoes as a staple food there should be an organized and concerted effort from the part of the government and all the socially minded organizations. Potato is sold in every vegetable shop as a ubiquitous item of food; however its use as a staple food is yet to become a reality in India. Eradication of hunger is the most important and the first item of activity in the “Social Justice Agenda” of the government and non-governmental organizations.

2. Tapioca or cassava is another tuber crop which has very high potential to replace rice and wheat as staple food in India. It can be grown in the North India during the summer and rainy season whereas in South throughout the year. It requires least care in growing and yet it provides highest amount of edible portion per plant or per hectare. In the case of potatoes we have to set aside some amount of tubers as seed potatoes whereas in the case tapioca stem cuttings are used as seed material. Hence the whole amount of tubers produced can be used for human consumption. Another advantage of tapioca is that the sliced tubers can be parboiled, dried and stored up to one year for future use. There are two main tropical tuber crop research institutes in our country: one in Trivandrum, Kerala and the other in Bhubaneswar, Orissa. In both places a number of varieties of tapioca are evolved suitable to different regions and different culinary purposes. There are more than twenty products in the market made of tapioca and people all over India are consuming them without being aware of it. But only people in Kerala are using it as staple food. It is a high starch tuber that can completely replace the rice and wheat as staple food of the ordinary people and save them from hunger provided they are coaxed into eating it as a staple food. Here again there should be concerted effort from the part of the government and voluntary groups to promote cultivation of tapioca as one of the crops in the up lands and to consume it as a staple food to eradicate hunger among the common and poor people in India. Tapioca can be consumed in the raw and sliced form in salads too like carrots, beetroot, radish etc. It is a matter of “Invisible Injustice” that the government or social work organizations never thought of promoting tapioca to eradicate hunger among the people of our country.

3. Yams are yet another excellent tuber crops that can substitute the cereals and millets. There are about 600 varieties of yam in the world and at least a dozen of them can be grown commercially throughout our country and can be used as a staple food. Yams have better nutritive value compared to all cereals and millets and are at par with potato in terms yield. Their leaves and petioles are also edible in cooked form. Yam can be grown in partially shaded areas, whereas all cereals, millets, cassava and potatoes need open space with lot of sunshine. The elephant foot yam is very high in yield and its keeping quality too is very high in dark, dry, cool and well aerated storages. Similarly all the other yams can also be stored for few months in the fresh form in dark, dry, cool and aerated storage places. There are many countries in Africa and Asia where yams are consumed as staple food. Even in Kerala people consume them as staple food during its harvest season. Sliced yams can be sun-dried and stored up for future use even without parboiling. Extensive research is done on various varieties of yams in both tuber crop research centres at Trivandrum and Bhubaneswar and their potential as staple food is already well established. The government and nongovernmental organizations should make concerted efforts to promote a number of yams as staple foods.  

4. Sweet potato is another tuber which is being eaten by many people in Africa, Asia, North America and New Zealand. There are many good varieties sweet potatoes even evolved by the two Tuber Crop Research Institutes in India. In some parts of the world it is also called yam. The plant is a simple creeper producing tubers from the nodes buried in the soil. Like tapioca all the tubers produced can be used for consumption because it is propagated through stem cutting. They can be consumed in boiled form or cooked with spices of one’s choice and eaten with appropriate accompanying dishes of pulses, meat, fish, mushrooms, sauces etc. It is slightly sweet and a high energy food item. Sweet potato can also be consumed raw in salads like tapioca. There should be some concerted effort from the part of governments and non-governmental organizations to promote the consumption of sweet potatoes as staple food.

5. Jackfruit is a major food item for a month or two in the southern part of India especially in Kerala. The fleshy part of the mature but unripe fruits can be cooked and eaten with appropriate accompanying dishes of pulses, meat, fish, mushrooms, sauces etc. The seeds are excellent food item too. A hundred gram of jackfruit seeds provides 184 calories of energy, 7 grams of protein, 38 grams of carbohydrates, 1.5 grams of fibre, less than one gram of fat. The seeds can be roasted or fried or cooked as a vegetable alone or mixed with other vegetables. People in Kerala cook jackfruit as a single item and eat it in mash form along with chatney or meat or fish. Jack fruit trees can grow in the plains of most part of India and its fruit can be promoted as staple food. Commercially jackfruit is a raw material for several food products sold in the market. However no one thought of making it as a staple food for the common people: Invisible Injustice.

Table 1 gives the nutritive values of rice, wheat, potato, tapioca, yam, sweet potato and jackfruit which can be consumed by any one as staple food. (Nutritive Value of Indian Foods by C. Gopalan, B. V. Rama Sastri & S. C. Balasubramaniam, First Edn 1971, revised edn in 1989 and last reprint in 2012, Pp 47-58. Indian Council of Medical Research, Hyderabad. (

Table 1 Average nutritive values per 100 gm at 12-13% moisture













Moisture of  edible portion (%)









Energy value per 100 gm edible portion at actual moisture  content (K Calories)









Energy value per 100 gm

Edible portion at 12% moisture (K Calories)








NB: In the first row the moisture contents of the edible portions of rice, wheat, potato, tapioca, yam, sweet potato and jackfruit are given as 12.0, 12.0, 74.7, 60.0, 70.0, 68.5 and 76.2 respectively in percentages. The second row gives their energy contents in their respective columns. For better comparison the energy values of tubers and jackfruit are estimated at 12% moisture in the third row.

The readers may note in the third row that the energy values of the tubers are statistically not significant from that of rice and wheat though there is difference in absolute numbers. From the point of energy supply they are equivalent to each other. Therefore any of the tubers or jackfruits can be a substitute for rice or wheat as a staple food. There should be a national campaign to encourage the common people to adopt the tubers and jackfruits as staple foods in order to eradicate hunger from India. That people have never thought of them so far as staple food is an Invisible Injustice inflicting upon themselves. Replace PDS with national level campaign on adoption of tubers as staple food in India. It is a call and a challenge to who want to eradicate hunger.

(The writer is retired Professor, XIM Bhubaneswar.

(Published on 19th February 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 08)