Year of millets

Most of us eat wheat and rice as staple foods but they do not have the nutritive value of millets. It is thus important that we include millets in our daily food

P Srinivasan I [email protected]

Millets have been staple foods for people in Asia and Africa for more than 10,000 years. But over the years, these ‘nutri-cereals’ lost out to rice and wheat. Especially after the Green Revolution, which focussed on increasing the yield of these two crops. As a matter of fact, today half of all calories consumed by humans come from maize, rice and wheat. These staple foods lack proteins, dietary fibre, vitamin V and several metal ions, which are present in millets in significant quantity. Also, wheat and rice are climate-dependent crops – erratic rainfall and extreme weather conditions affect the yield. Millets, on the other hand, are climate-resilient; they need little water and grow well in warmer, drier environments. For these reasons, some agriculture research foundations such as the Chennai-based M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation have been working to promote production and consumption of millets. India has managed to get the United Nations to declare the year 2023 as the international year of millets. Suddenly, the whole world seems to take note of these miracle foods. Prime Minister Narendra Modi vision is to position India as the global hub for millets.

Some examples of millets are pearl millet or bajra, sorghum or jowar, finger millet or ragi. Asia and Africa are the major production and consumption centers of millets. India, Niger, Sudan and Nigeria are the major producers. During the last 5 years, our country produced more than 13.71 to 18 million tonnes of millets with the highest production in 2020-21. Most of the states in India grow one or more millet crop species. Sorghum and pearl millets covers more than 90% area and production. Remaining production comes from ragi, Cheena (Proso Millets), Foxtail Millets (Kangni) and other non-segregated millets.

According to the fourth advance estimates for the year 2021-22, about 16 million tonnes of millet have been produced in India, which is about 5 percent of the national food grain basket. It has the highest market share of 9.62 million tonnes, followed by jowar with a production of 4.23 million tonnes. Ragi is another important millet, which contributes to the production of 1.70 million tonnes and the production of other millets is 0.37 million tonnes.

Millets were among the first crops to be domesticated in India with several evidence of its consumption during the Indus valley civilization. Being grown in more than 130 countries at present, millets are considered traditional food for more than half a billion people across Asia and Africa. In India, millets are primarily a kharif crop, requiring less water and agricultural inputs than other similar staples. Millets are important by virtue of its mammoth potential to generate livelihoods, increase farmers’ income and ensure food and nutritional security all over the world.

India began prioritising millets in 2018, which was declared as the national year of millets, branding them as ‘nutri-cereals’. Production and consumption of millets also aligns with several UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Department of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare (DA&FW) hosted a special ‘Millet Luncheon’ for the Members of the Parliament at the Parliament House prior to the year-long celebration of ‘IYM 2023’, on December 20, 2022. The lunch featured a curated millets-based buffet featuring a variety of scrumptious dishes made from these ‘nutri-cereals’. A group of chefs from Karnataka and Rajasthan prepared various millet delicacies for the MPs. Alongside the millet culinary experience, millet-based products were also exhibited at the event venue to showcase various food products that included several ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook millet items.

During the International Year of Millets (IYM), India’s Agriculture Ministry has lined up a series of millet-centric plans and activities. Many states have announced to include millets in the public distribution system (PDS) so that the health of schoolchildren can benefit in their midday meals. Some other states have initiated millet missions to increase the use of millets. The state will conduct millet-centric activities such as mahotsavas/melas and food festivals, training of farmers, awareness campaigns, workshops/seminars, placement of hoardings and distribution of promotional material at various key locations in the state, etc.

The DA&FW has urged everyone including the international organizations, academia, hotels, media, Indian diaspora, start-up communities, civil society, and all others in the millets value-chain to come forward and join hands to revive the forgotten glory of ‘Miracle Millets’ through the grand celebration of IYM-2023.

Rajasthan includes millets in midday meal, Indira rasoi

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has proposed to include pearl millet, sorghum and other millets in the midday meal, Indira rasoi and in other schemes of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) to promote cultivation of millets and encourage its use. The state government also plans to distribute mini kits of hybrid bajra seeds to 8 lakh small and marginal farmers by spending Rs 16 crore.

Pearl Millets and sorghum are the major crops under millets in Rajasthan. Rajasthan is the top producer of pearl millets in the country and stands third in the production of sorghum.

Chief secretary Usha Sharma said that nutritious food grains have an important role in maintaining good health therefore millets should be included in daily food. She directed to publicise the benefits and qualities of nutritious millets and make people aware about them.

Agriculture department principal secretary Dinesh Kumar said that pearl millets and sorghum are the major millet crops in Rajasthan and barnyard millets (sawan), foxtail millet (kangani), kodo millet (kodo), little millet (kutki) and finger millet (ragi) etc are cultivated in tribal areas of southern districts in Rajasthan.

Rajasthan has the favorable climate for cultivating sorghum and pearl millets as these crops require less water and are less affected by pests and diseases.

Kumar said that the state government announced the Rajasthan Millets Mission in the budget 2022-23. He said that 8.32 lakh mini kits of pearl millet seeds were distributed free of cost to the farmers in kharif 2022. The centre of excellence for millets with a cost of Rs 5 crore is being set up in Jodhpur, while provision of Rs 40 crore has been made for setting up 100 primary processing units.

The state government also plans to organise a state level seminar on nutritional importance of millets and a conclave on agro-processing, in which millet producers, agriculture businessmen, start-ups, NGOs, agriculture scientists and officers will discuss and prepare a concrete strategy. The government also plans to organise seminars at the district level, gram sabhas at the level of gram panchayat and lectures in schools to inform about the qualities of millets and creating awareness about miracle millets.

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