FOSRIN: Food security through ricebean research in India and Nepal

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Health and nutrition

South Asian diets are dominated by staple cereal crops - rice, wheat or maize, vegetables and pulses. The overall consumption of animal source foodstuffs is low, in particular with respect to meat. Large population groups are predominantly vegetarians, some by cultural choice, but to most people the reason is economic. They cannot afford meat frequently. Therefore, their relatively high nutrient content makes pulses a crucial part of South Asian peoples' diets.

During the course of the Green Revolution, intensive research efforts have led to vast increases in cereal production, whereas pulses have received little attention. As a result, the availability of pulses per capita has fallen from about 70 grams per day in 1960 to about 30 grams in 2007. Among the urban middle class, this change has been compensated for by increased consumption of animal source foodstuffs, but this has not benefited the rural poor. Their diet has increasingly been dominated by carbohydrates, leading to hidden hunger - a condition where energy requirements are met but where the body lacks essential nutrients in terms of vitamins and minerals. FOSRIN aims to increase food security by improving and promoting ricebean as a nutritious crop, well suited for marginal lands.

A dish of Mori dahl

The nutritional value of ricebean

Ricebean has a higher content of protein than cereal crops. Protein content varies between varieties but is commonly around 20%. The amino acid composition is very favourable for human consumption, with a high content of essential amino acids. While the gross content of protein is not very high compared to other pulses, it is to some extent compensated for the high digestibility. Although ricebean in a South Asian cultural context is considered to be a "cold" food item, the easy digestibility makes it especially well suited for children, women and elderly with a weak digestion.

A range of different dishes are producd using ricebean - some of those from NE India are shown here

The content of minerals and some vitamins is favourable compared to staple cereals. The fat content is very low, and has a relatively high proportion of healthy, unsaturated fatty acids.

Ricebean contains phytic acid, polyphenol, tannins, trypsin inhibitors, other anti-nutrients, and flatus producing oligosaccharides. However, the content of all these is lower than in many comparable pulses. The effects are strongly reduced through common cooking practices such as soaking, germination, dry-roasting and cooking, and no studies have found any toxic or allergenic substances in ricebean.

Indirect nutritional benefits

Ricebean is commonly grown on marginal and exhausted soil, fixing nitrogen and replenishing the nutrient balance. In Eastern Nepal, it is cultivated in rotation with ginger and other cash crops, for the benefit of soil nutrients and to reduce pests and diseases.

When intercropped, it increases the yield of maize and other staple crops. It provides good soil cover and reduces erosion, and is often planted on terrace risers. The plant residue is valuable livestock fodder and is known to increase milk production.

FOSRIN research on nutrition and health

The nutritional aspects of ricebean consumption are being evaluated in their local context. 800 women of reproductive age are being interviewed on food consumption, using the 24 hour recall and food frequency method. 3 recalls are collected from each participant, in order to cover seasonal variations. The study is being carried out in locations in Assam and Himachal Pradesh in India, and in hill areas in West and East Nepal, in order to analyze the importance of different diets and staple crops. The method will enable an in-depth analysis of the adequacy of the diet of each individual, the risk of malnutrition, and the relative importance of each component of the diet.

For more infrmation about the nutritional spects of ricebean please contact Dr Peter Andersen

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