|Classic lentils, left, and red lentils|
Staple crops provide foods that are an important part of the diet. For example, rice is a staple crop in much of Asia. An Eastern European staple is the potato. The lentil is just such a crop for many South Asians.
The lentil plant is known for its seeds, which grow inside a protective covering, or pod. Lentils, or dal, are extremely important to Indian cooking. Soups and other foods are made with dal.
In the United States, prices for Indian lentils have increased by one hundred percent or more in recent months. Some stores sold all their lentils and have been unable to get more.
A poor harvest has been blamed for the shortage of dal in India. Reports say people started to hold back supplies. Recently, the Associated Press reported that prices for things like lentils and sugar rose more than twenty percent in India.
Rising prices caused the Indian government to ban exports of lentils in June. India is not expected to end the ban until next year.
India’s effort to control inflation has not only led to high prices in the United States. Reports from Bangladesh say that country is also experiencing higher prices for lentils. Many South Asian communities around the world also have been affected.
India and Canada are the world’s biggest producers of lentils. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations says India produced about one million metric tons last year. But Indian farmers grow many different kinds that are not grown in other countries. That is why many people of Indian ancestry want to cook with Indian dal instead of other lentils.
People have grown lentils for more than five thousand years. The plant is probably native to southwest Asia and then spread to Egypt and East Asia.
Lentils are a very healthy food. They contain up to twenty-five percent protein. Because of this, they are extremely important in cultures that do not eat meat. Lentils are also good for the soil. Their roots are home to bacteria that put nitrogen, an important plant food, into the soil.
In India, lentils are usually planted in November. After harvest, the lentil plant makes excellent fertilizer. Often, other crops are planted on the same fields as part of a crop rotation.
And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Mario Ritter. Transcripts and archives of our reports are at voaspecialenglish.com. To send us e-mail, write to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Shep O’Neal.