A few progressive farmers in the Satara district of Maharashtra have planted black wheat in November. It is a variety developed by the National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute (NABI) for its antioxidants properties. Other varieties with colours such as purple and blue have also been developed by NABI. Farmers in Punjab, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh have also experimented with these varieties.
NABI is an autonomous institute under the Department of Biotechnology.
Already organic food companies are sensing an opportunity in the retail market. Purple wheat flour in one kilogram packs are available at ₹399, while another company is selling 450 gm of black wheat flour for about ₹165.
However, Director of Karnal ICAR– Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research (IIWBR), GP Singh said that the black wheat, which has been developed by NABI is not a wheat variety released by Central Sub-Committee on Crop Standards, Notification and Release of Varieties for Agricultural Crops. For a wheat variety to be identified and released, a gazette notification has to be issued. The reasons for NABI to propagate black wheat is not known, it has not been tested fully. But NABI’s support for commercial cultivation of such kinds of wheat varieties is not proper, he said.
Singh was of the opinion that the farmers will find such a type of wheat, difficult to sell as customer preference is not for black wheat. Moreover, the claims made by NABI’s researchers about black wheat have not been clinically verified. Therefore, IIWBR has never propagated black wheat. IIWBR’s own analysis of black wheat for antioxidants properties could not be verified, he said.
On the other hand, senior agriculture scientist with NABI, Monika Garg whose discipline and specialization is wheat processing and nutritional quality said that there are compounds called anthocyanins with antioxidant properties. In higher concentrations, they are found in certain berries and black plum (Jamun).
Studies have shown that they are good for health in fighting lifestyle disorders like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Coloured wheat is rich in anthocyanins and thus has high antioxidant activity. It can be included in the superfood category, she said.
Garg said 20 companies have signed MOU/NDA with NABI for farming and product development for commercialisation of coloured wheat. NABI is not providing seeds directly to the farmers. With the increase in consumer awareness about healthy foods, its cultivation is expected to increase rapidly, she said.