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Choices of technology
Many food mixes for children have been described. What are the factors that might dictate their choice? Raw material availability is, of course, the most important of these. Granting this, for home use the technique of puffing, which is a high-temperature (250° C), short-time (one-minute) process, has many attractive features. It is a quick, dry method; moisture is reduced to 2 to 3 per cent, and the traditional use of sand could with advantage be replaced with salt, which does not adhere to the very dry product. Germination is rather tedious for household use, and is better fitted for factory-scale utilization since all the steps of wetting, germination, drying, roasting, and powdering are well adapted to mechanization. For community adoption, all the methods described have potential.
Parboiling is not a universally applicable procedure in milling grains. The main object of parboiling is to harden the grain and thus reduce milling losses. Since wheat and sorghum are almost sure to be ground later into powder for home use, parboiling has less relevance for these grains. Some sorghum varieties are soft, and respond well to parboiling for subsequent preparation of semolina in good yield. Similarly, bulgur wheat represents a successful parboiling variant. Since parboiling achieves case-hardening, it is also an excellent method of prophylaxis prior to storage.
Solar drying is making some commercial headway, and a few devices are being marketed in Maharashtra and Gujarat. For domestic cooking, work was needed to build cookers that could be used in the kitchen itself and not in the open as at present. In the paper, energy costs from coal had been compared to those from furnace oil, but a comparison between solar and gobar gas energies would be relevant.
Technologies for grain storage and drying also offered a wide range of options. The "Save Grain" campaign of the Indian Government had 17 offices and 6 research stations and was operated by all state governments with the aim of educating and motivating farmers through demonstration, training, and publicity. Top priority was given to fabrication of appropriate storage structures and timely supply of pesticides. Funds were furnished to state governments to fabricate bins for the use of farmers through deferred payments or subsidies. Some 300,000 metal bins had so far been sold, besides Rs 1 million worth of ethylene dibromide compounds a year for fumigation. Such inputs were essential in the early stages to move farmers towards adoption.
One could hardly expect definitive figures for grain losses in storage, and there is bound to be a wide range. It is a stupendous task to dry 130 million tonnes of food grains in a matter of a couple of weeks, and the techniques devised should match the quantity of produce. It is common to find insufficiently dried paddy being marketed in Punjab and Haryana with a moisture content as high as 18 per cent, which was disastrous for the consumer.
Traditional home technologies for grain storage frequently failed to recognize losses in quality and quantity, or even potential danger. The use of castor oil as a grain protectant may simply depend on the slipping away of eggs, and other infestations go unrecognized. Mercury pellets have an ovicidal action, but cannot inhibit the growth of larvae and pupae within the grain; if used early enough, they have a value. Mercury was not harmful in itself, but is converted in the body to methyl mercury, which is highly toxic.
The Adoption of Technology
Why has all the excellent work on child feeding not taken root in the system? It is not easy to offer a clear answer. People must be motivated to adopt even something that is meant for their own good. Anything free or subsidized or charitable will not last long. It is the demonstration effort that must be subsidized, and the business of sponsorship is to bring technology to the attention of people, who can be expected to adopt it if the innovation is a commercial proposition, or if it fulfils a real need. Commercial foods cost the buyer about twice what they actually cost to produce, and the types of strategy used to sell them are not likely to be suitable for really low-cost foods. Here, decentralized local production for use over, say, a 40-kilometre radius appears best suited, with minimal packaging, overheads, and commissions. It is true that Indian buying habits are changing, and one cannot predict what will be a commercial success and what will not. Where purchasing power is almost non-existent, as in a village, one approach to making a processed food is to have local women produce and market the product at some small monetary benefit to themselves. Organizations like Mahila Mandals have had some evident success in this direction. But, overall, a commercial approach, however marginal, to adaptive or innovative technologies is inescapable.
Have problems really been approached with a view to their solution? Where, for example, does solar energy best fit in, and what devices will then meet the ends identified? The interphases surrounding the problem must never be lost sight of. Sometimes a pre-harvest prophylaxis is a better answer than a later intervention. Either the science behind traditional technologies, or even a new technology, must be geared to its greatest need. Weaning foods are probably best directed to the family, to the mother. If a mother simply does not have time to take her child to the immunization centre, the latter must be brought to her. Perhaps if we examine more closely why people do what they do. some of the many technologies available at the post-harvest stage would have a better chance of passing into the fabric of the nation.
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