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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2956

Kashmir Sag: A Panacea To Curb Malnutrition

By J.N.Raina - Syndicate Features

A Pune-based farmer has provided an appropriate answer to India’s centuries-old malnutrition problem. I have no intention to over-egg the pudding. I am not exaggerating the truth.

If India is really keen to overcome the dilemma and wean away people, especially youth, from unhealthy foods, the regular consumption of protein-rich Kashmiri vegetables, ‘sag’ (hak) and ‘suchal’, is the best healthy answer.

The two exotic vegetables, rich in minerals, are being successfully grown by Sahibrao Bagade and his two sons, Suryakant and Shivaji, in Urlikanchan near Pune, on a two-acre farm, for the over past 15 months.

The vegetables, cultivated for the first time in Pune, outside Kashmir---thanks to suitable climatic conditions in Pune for its growth--- are a rich source of protein and fibre. These are prolific in iron and trace elements, which is essential for body growth and development. Simply put, these vegetables are a complete food for ‘aam admi’, irrespective of one’s social and economic status.

Originating from Kashmir, ‘hak’ and ‘suchal’ are helpful in reducing blood sugar, doctors have opined. These can be useful for children, covered under the Mid-day Meal scheme.

According to a recent UNICEF report, 230 million people in India are undernourished, the highest for any country. Malnutrition accounts for nearly 50 per cent of child death in India. More than 1.5 million children are at the risk of becoming malnutritioned. According to a survey, people have been moving away from cereals, proteins and healthy foods, towards beverages and addictives. In a way, India’s rising consumption level is “edging the country into a nutritional black hole”, experts say.

Analysts at the Central Research Station (CRS), BAIF Development Research Foundation, maintain that Kashmiri ‘suchal’ contains 21 per cent protein, while ‘sag’, a leafy vegetable like ‘suchal’ has 18.42 per cent protein, must for growing children and pregnant and lactating mothers.

Bagades are keen to usher in a ‘green revolution’ of sorts. They are the only cultivators of these exotic vegetables and have big dreams. ‘Sag’ and ‘suchal’ are a delectable Kashmiri cuisine, forming part of the staple diet in Kashmir, along with rice. The government needs to encourage such inquisitive farmers for their sustained efforts to make people health conscious.

According to the “ Nilamata Purana”, an ancient Sanskrit text, detailing about customs and rituals which were prevalent in pre-historic Kashmir, people used to consume what was then known as ‘saka’(all green vegetables). There are references about cooked food, dry food and lasting food in the text. People were used to uncooked and watery foods. The consumption of these green vegetables continues unabated in the Kashmir valley.

As per the latest UNICEF report, 78,000 women die in India every year because of “avoidable complications” during childbirth, as a result of malnutrition. More than 70 per cent of children (under-5) suffer from anaemia and 80 per cent of them do not get vitamin supplement.

CRS researchers have recommended a regular intake of these vegetables to overcome malnutrition. According to the latest report on the state of food insecurity, especially in rural India, the proportion of anaemic children has increased by six per cent during the past six years, with 11 out of 19 states having more than 80 per cent of its children suffering from anaemia. Over 40 per cent of women suffer from chronic energy deficiency.

It is for the first time in the history of Maharashtra that these high-value vegetables have been made available round the year, because of suitable conditions for its cultivation.

Ms Surekha Kale, a CRS researcher has told me: “Both the vegetables have high protein content. So it is good to consume the vegetables for wear and tear of the body. Also same can be very useful to growing children and pregnant women. Besides these common observations, it can be suggested that as it has very good nutritional characters, it can be consumed in small quantities but regularly”.

After procuring seed of ‘sag’ and ‘suchal’ from Kashmir in 2007, I grew them in pots. In fact, I got the idea from Mrs Sheila Muju, a relative of mine, who had already been growing these vegetables in pots. Later I cultivated the vegetables in the kitchen garden of my Palm Groves Housing Society, at B T Kawde Road, Ghorpadi. Feeling encouraged, I approached the Bagades through the State Agriculture Department. I was imbued with a desire to grow these vegetables for mass consumption.

Shivaji and Suryakant planted the seedlings on the auspicious day, Diwali, on October 8, 2007. After three weeks, when I visited their farm, I was elated to see ‘sag’ and ‘suchal’ growing so extensively and majestically. The farmer was too happy. They have now increased the area under cultivation from 350 square feet to 80,000 square feet (two acres) because of good demand. They have resorted to mixed farming and side-by-side, they have been growing other Kashmiri vegetables like spinach, brinjal and naul-khool. In fact the Bagades have created a ‘mini-Kashmir’ in their spacious farm. Amazingly, they are fond of cultivating other varieties of Kashmiri vegetables; eager to do something unique.

Several hundred non-Kashmiris have evinced interest in the vegetables, because of protein content. The Bagades supply the vegetables to Reliance Fresh for Mumbai and Pune. In Pune, the vegetables are being sold at some selected groceries. It is also available at Dorabjee’s Food World. The vegetables are much in demand in the city, especially in areas where Kashmiris have settled, like Saulankivihar, Kaundwa, Aundh, Vimannagar, Paschan and Pimpri. They also deliver these vegetables personally in other localities. Periodically, they receive orders from ISKON and FTII canteen managers.

It augurs well that the Congress party has in its election manifesto announced to enact a National Food Security Act, but not before the U N Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and former U S Vice-President Al Gore suggested the world community to go green. “We urge all governments to expand green stimulus elements, including energy efficiency…. Investing in the green economy is not an optional expense. It is a smart investment for a more equitable, prosperous future”, they said in an article.

It would be prudent if the cultivation of Kashmiri ‘sag’ and ‘suchal’ is encouraged by the Centre on war footing in the states like U P, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar and Chhattisgarh, where malnutrition problem is acute. Given the latest technology and agricultural research, it is possible to grow these sensitive vegetables even in hostile climatic conditions. Efforts are needed to boost the production of ‘sag’ and ‘suchal’ to stave off malnutrition.

The Pune farmer has the capacity to supply these exotic vegetables to several canteens run by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation, the RSI (army), hospitals and hotels .

- Asian Tribune -

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