Cereals, a collective term for grasslike plants with starchy edible seeds, have high nutritional value and have formed the basic diet of humankind for long. The common cereals are rice, wheat, maize or corn, barley, rye, oats, millets and sorghum. Some of these are surveyed here.
Requires high temperature and moisture, therefore most of the rice-growing areas lies in monsoon Asia. Rice accounts for more than 50 per cent of the world food. Major rice-producing countries are China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Minor producers are Egypt, Brazil, Turkey, USA and Europe.
Rice is the staple food in a large area of the world, and probably feeds more people than any other cereal: As a foodgrain, it is very nutritious in its unpolished parboiled state but more palatable in the polished or milled form which is deficient in nutritious value. (Vitamins A and B and calcium are present in the outer layer of the rice grain and are removed when polished.) However, if eaten along with other food items like fish, meat, vegetables and fruits, it could form a balanced diet.
Rice is consumed mainly within the producing regions arid only around 5 per cent to 7 per cent of the total production enters the world market.
Wheat may be called the “bread grain’ of the European civilisation. It is grown over a wide area. It is one crop which exhibits great adaptability and can be grown from Siberia to the tropics. Major producers are the CIS, USA, China, India and Canada.
Wheat is nutritious even when milled into flour, containing carbohydrate, protein, and fat, traces of calcium, thiamine, riboflavin and iron. The byproducts—bran, rich in niacin, phosphorus and iron—make good livestock feed.
About 15 to 20 per cent of wheat production finds its way into the international market, and there are more importers than exporters.
Often known as Indian corn, or simply corn, maize is a widely cultivated cereal, being adaptable to a range of climatic types. Though bulk of the world’s maize production is used as animal feed, it is also a staple food for humans in many parts of the world—southern US, Central and South America, Africa and some regions of Asia. It is also the main ingredient in a wide range of processed food items. It has a high food value.
Major producers include USA, China, Brazil and Romania and minor producers are CIS, Mexico, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Argentina is a minor producer but a major exporter of corn.
The temperate lands of Europe and North America are the major producers of this cereal which is used to make bread in some regions and has a high nutrition value. Large quantities of barley are used these days as animal feed. The most common use of barley is for making beer and whisky. Major producers are France, UK, Germany, Denmark, CIS, Canada, India and China.
The hardiest of cereals, oats is tolerant of a wide range of soil .types but less tolerant of climatic variation. It is widely grown in Russia and Ukraine, the corn belt of USA, and in sunny Mediterranean lands and in the colder parts of the temperate north.
It is not found in the tropics and sub-tropics of Africa, Asia or South America. Though much of oats production goes for animal feed, it is a well-balanced food; it is increasingly being processed as breakfast cereals or invalid foods and gaining popularity among the diet conscious.
7. Millet and Sorghum:
Grown in tropical and sub-tropical areas with low or seasonal rainfall, these cereals are considered less nutritious than the other cereals. However, they are important food crops especially in poorer areas. The major producers of sorghum as fodder are USA and Argentina, while Russia and other CIS countries grow millet.
In India several varieties of millet are grown for both food and forage. Of late, dieticians are recognising the nutritional value of these cereals, .especially bajra and ragi. China is a major producer of millet. Africa also produces millet which is an important subsistence crop there.
8. Vegetables and Fruits:
Vegetables and fruits are important articles of diet and have varied and significant nutritional value. Some vegetables, such as starchy tubers (cassava, yam, potatoes), are staple foods in some regions of Africa and South America, and even used as substitutes for cereals for their high carbohydrate content.
Root crops such as carrots, beets, turnips and swedes are other important vegetables. Green vegetables (cabbage, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower) are valuable foodstuffs providing essential vitamins and minerals and thus contributing to a balanced diet.
Pulses are leguminous plants such as peas, lentils and beans. These are major sources of protein. Lentils form an important item of diet in India and other South Asian countries, especially for vegetarians. The main producers are India, China, CIS and Brazil, but production is low on the whole.
Fruits, like vegetables, are important nutrient providers in the form of vitamins and essential minerals. Bananas are the most important tropical fruit both as a subsistence crop and in world trade. Mangoes are gaining importance in international trade as are pineapples.
Citrus fruits are the most important fruits of the warm- temperate and sub-tropical regions. Canning is an important food processing system for citrus fruits. Apple is the most important of the temperate fruits. Unlike many fruits, if properly handled and stored, apples can be easily transported and kept for several months. The fruit’s nutritional value is highly rated.
It will be seen from the above survey that Africa and Latin America are, on the whole, not so well endowed in the field of foodgrain production as other regions of the world.