India’s population is expected to increase by nearly 400 million people by the year 2050, requiring even more food to be produced to feed the new population. However, it is not as simple as just planting more high volume crops like rice and wheat. This was the plan in the 1960s, and saw a secondary problem emerge with the increasing impact on the environment through smaller crop yields, increased water consumption, and the release of many more greenhouse gases. 

A study from Columbia University’s Earth Institute provides a new perspective that would be helpful for India’s planners: “to reduce undernourishment and improve nutrition, and to promote sustainable water use.” The study focused on providing alternative food source production be looking at the crop yield, water use, and nutritional value of the harvest. Namely, the two high-yield crops of rice and wheat were among some of the least efficient water-use crops and also increased “irrigation stress”. 

Certainly the study does not advocate the wholesale replacement of a culinary staple in rice, but provides a recommendation that it should perhaps be rotated with other cereal grains to improve the health of the soil. Some Indian states have already changed their recommendations and started pilot programs to rotate crop production, including cereal grains like millet.