The main challenge in reviving millets as to meet the unique needs of India is to increase awareness on the multiple benefits of millets and get the public to accept millets and its taste.
By Tomio Shichiri
About five decade ago millets was a major grain consumed in India and several other countries. However, the plate share of millets has dwindled alarmingly in favour of wheat, rice and processed food according to the 2014 National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) report. Therefore, with more land being utilized for cultivation of wheat and rice, the cultivation area for millets has also shrunk since 1956 by 58% for small millets, 64% for sorghum, 49% for finger millet and 23% for pearl millet.
With the growing problem of malnutrition in India, under-nutrition (deficiencies of vitamins, mineral and proteins) as well as over-nutrition (obesity, metabolic syndrome and lifestyle diseases), there is an increased awareness to shift to healthier, accessible and affordable diets including millets. Millets are nutri-dense and are a rich source of protein, essential fatty acids, dietary fibre, vitamin B and naturally gluten-free.
Millets also help prevent many non-communicable lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases. Therefore, nutri-dense foodgrain such as millets is viable option/solution to reduce the adverse effects of rising malnutrition and enhancing food and nutrition security of the country.
Additionally, millets are climate and drought resilient-crops that can grow easily in adverse climatic conditions with few inputs. This way, increased consumption of millets can also assure the economic security of the farmer/producer. “The |Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) along with the Government are working together to promote crop genetic diversity, including indigenous crops to conserve India’s rich biodiversity. This is done by working with smallholder farmers, including women to strengthen their role as agrobiodiversity diversity guardians,” said Mr Tomio Shichiri, the Country Director of FAO in India.
The main challenge in reviving millets as to meet the unique needs of India is to increase awareness on the multiple benefits of millets and get the public to accept millets and its taste. To bring about a larger effect it will be imperative to bring the stakeholders (producer and consumer) in the entire millet value chain to a common platform and understanding. There is progress made to this end.
A major change has been to include millet in the public distribution system (PDS) at INR 1 per kg after the National Food Security Bill (2013) passed the relevant notification for millets in 2018. This has been successful in increasing the use of millets in Karnataka. Odisha has also recently included millets in their PDS system. (Indian Institute of Millet Research 2018) The state-owned Mandi Parishad (wholesale market) in Uttrakhand is directly buying millets and whole grains like chaulai (amaranth), maduwa (ragi), jhingora (barnyard millet), kuttu (buckwheat) and koni (foxtail millet) directly from the farmers.
Also, the Government has hiked the minimum support price (MSP) of millets (bajra, jowar, and ragi) substantially so that more and more farmers opt for this crop especially in drought-prone areas. The sub-regulation 2.4 of Food Safety & Standards (Food Product Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011 has standardized the quality of jowar, bajra and ragi and their respective flours. (FSSAI n.d.) India celebrated the year 2018 as the National Year of the Millets. Also, FAO Council at its 160th session (Rome, December 2018) accepted India’s proposal to celebrate International Year of Millets in 2023.
Promoting millets not only gives visibility to these miracle crops, but also to women farmers and their farming wisdom. Spreading awareness about the many benefits of millets to the farmers and to the public can go a long way to revive millets production and consumption in India.
(The author is Country Director/ Representative of FAO of the UN. Views expressed are personal.)