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Based on persistent efforts by the Government of India, the UN (in 2021) had declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets (IYOM23). In this context, the pre-launch celebration of the IYOM23 was organized jointly by the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Agriculture. On the occasion, India’s External Affairs Minister named “Covid, Conflict, and Climate” as the world’s primary food security challenges. He placed the cultivation and popularisation of millets in the context of the larger imperative of ‘de-risking the global economy’. The Government has taken multiple steps to enhance millet production in India. Production and consumption ecosystem of millets faces certain challenges that need to be overcome to further improve adoption and consumption of millets.
What are the conditions necessary for Millet Production?
Millets are a group of small-seeded grasses (Poaceae or grass family), widely grown around the world as cereal crops or grains. They are used as both human food and animal fodder. Millets provide food security to millions of households and contribute to the economic efficiency of farming. Millets include three major (Sorghum (Jowar), Pearl (Bajra), Finger (Ragi)) and six minor crops (Barnyard (Sanwa), Proso (Chenna/Barri), Foxtail (Kakum), Kodo, Brown Top and Little (Kutki/Shavan)).
Climate Requirements: Millets require warm temperatures for germination and development and are sensitive to frost. For these reasons, they are normally planted from mid-June to mid-July period. Optimum soil temperatures for seed germination are between 20°C and 30°C. Millet are efficient users of water and grow well in areas of low moisture. They can grow in areas with annual rainfall range of ~30-50 cm. Millets are often grown as catch crops (a crop grown in the space between two main crops or at a time when no main crops are being grown).
Soil Requirements: Millets are highly adaptable to a variety of soil conditions, from extremely poor to very fertile, and can handle a degree of alkalinity. Alluvial, loamy, and sandy soils with good drainage are the ideal soils for millet cultivation.
Source: Indian Express
What are the benefits of Millet Production?
Nutritional and Health: (a) According to ICAR-Indian Institute of Millets Research, Hyderabad, Millets contain 7-12% protein, 2-5% fat, 65-75% carbohydrates and 15-20% dietary fibre. They are more nutritious compared to fine cereals. They contain higher protein, fat and fibre content; (b) They are gluten free and non-allergenic. They have low Glycemic Index (GI, value used to measure how much specific foods increase blood sugar levels) and are rich in bioactive compounds and essential amino acids. Because of low GI, they are goof for diabetic persons; (c) They are also rich in micronutrients like calcium, iron, zinc, iodine etc.; (d) They are three to five times more nutritious than wheat and rice in terms of proteins, minerals and vitamins; (e) Millets can help combat cardiovascular diseases, anaemia, calcium deficiency etc.
Millets are considered to be the next super food or ‘nutri-cereals’ of the world because of their high nutritional content. They can be useful as a sustainable means for nutritional security.
Food Security: (a) Millets are sustainable food source for combating hunger in a changing world climate. Millets secure sixth position in terms of world agricultural production of cereal grains and are still a staple food in many regions of the world. These are rich source of many vital nutrients and hence, promise an additional advantage for combating nutrient deficiencies in the third world countries; (b) Millets are resistance to climatic stress, pest and diseases; (c) They can be stored for long with ease.
Environmental: (a) Millets have low water requirement and are drought resistant. They have short growing season and require less water during growth. Millets can grow in regions with <50 cm annual rainfall; (b) They can be grown in dry land areas using farmyard manures, thus reducing the dependence on synthetic fertilisers.
Economic: (a) Millets offer farmers a stable source of income as they are drought-resistant and less susceptible to failure due to weather-related events; (b) Millet production requires a low initial capital investment; (c) The global Millets market was valued at US$ 9.95 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach US$ 14.14 Billion in 2028, growing at a CAGR of 5% from 2021 to 2028 .
Social: (a) SDG: Millets have the potential to help achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs), mainly SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-being), SDG 12 (Sustainable Consumption and Production), and SDG 13 (Climate Action); (b) Millets can be helpful in reducing gender nutrition gaps and inequalities; (c) Other social benefits include a doubling of farmers’ income and an increase in human capital as a result of an increase in the availability of nutritious food .
What are the challenges in Millet Production?
Mono-cropping: The Green Revolution has altered the cropping pattern to wheat-paddy cycle. The area under Millet cultivation reduced from 37 million hectares in pre-Green Revolution period to ~14 million hectares. Millets have become a predominantly fodder crop from staple diet earlier.
Inconsistent Supply and Demand: (a) According to NSSO household consumption expenditure survey less than 10% of rural and urban households reported consumption of millets. It is not the first choice of either consumers or farmers; (b) The Millets Mission has led to the inclusion of grain in the public distribution system, however the quotas are small; (c) The lack of access to HYV seeds has led to low crop productivity, the lack of public awareness about nutritional benefits of millets has led to limited adoption of millets. In addition, limited distribution and lack of market knowledge have resulted in sub-optimal reach, lower price realization and wastage.
Processing Issues: (a) Some millets require multiple processing for optimization of grain recovery and optimization of polishing to retain their nutrition value. Processing of millets face several hurdles owing to variation in size of various millet types and low shelf life of the processed millets. The grains vary in terms of shape, nature of grain surface, hardness, husk-grain bonding etc.; (b) Furthermore, there are variations within the same small millet crop due to variation in varieties, cultivation practices, and microclimate across production regions. Lack of processing units make it difficult to bring cultivated millets to consumption market.
Low Shelf Life: Processed Millets (like millet flour) have poor shelf life due to its intrinsic enzyme activity (lipase activity, lipid oxidation etc.) that causes rapid development of rancidity and bitterness. Millet products are also prone to moisture and water activity. Quality assurance thus greatly depends on different pre-treatments and storage conditions.
Ease of Consumption: Wheat has gluten proteins that swell and form networks on adding water to the flour, making the dough more cohesive and elastic. The resultant chapattis come out soft, which isn’t possible with millets (hard) that are gluten-free.
Options in PDS: For the rural poor, rice and wheat were aspirational foods. An expanded PDS has provided them access to these Fine grains, which is distinguished from coarse grains.
What steps have been taken to promote Millet Production?
First, In 2018, The Union Agriculture Ministry, declared millets as ‘Nutri-Cereals’, considering their ‘high nutritive value’ and also ‘anti-diabetic properties’. 2018 was observed as ‘National Year of Millets’.
Second, The UN General Assembly adopted an India-sponsored resolution to mark 2023 as the ‘International Year of Millets‘.
Third, The Government of India, through the revamped National Food Security Mission Operational Guidelines (NFSM), has laid specific focus on 212 millet districts in 14 states to provide incentives to farmers for quality seed production/distribution, field-level demonstrations, trainings, primary processing clusters and research support. The launch of 67 value-added technologies at the ‘Centres of Excellence’ has been supplemented with the release of 77 high-yielding and 10 bio-fortified varieties.
Fourth, The US$ 14-billion Agricultural Infrastructure Fund (AIF) has pushed investments across States to support millet entrepreneurs, primary processing machines for dehulling millets (removal of husk) and the formation of millet farmer collectives.
Fifth, The ‘One District One Product’ (ODOP) initiative has identified 27 millet focus districts.
Sixth, The promotion of 10,000 FPOs’ programme (US$ 924 million) aims at the millet producers’ effective market participation as member shareholders in these entities.
Seventh, The Odisha Government’s 5-year ‘Millet Mission’ is supplementing the input as well as marketing needs of indigenous small and marginal farmers like the Dongria Kondhs across the state to grow millets. Similar initiatives have been launched by the State Governments of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Telangana.
Fast-emerging organic food brands are further helping mainstream millet consumption.
What further steps can be taken to enhance Millet Production?
Production, Processing and Storage: Millet cultivation should be encouraged because of its climate resilience, short cropping period, and capacity to thrive in poor soils, mountainous terrains, and with little rain. Women millet farmers in rain-fed areas have to be empowered through capacity-building and skills training.
Marketing: For sourcing quality millets as well as their steady marketing by entrepreneurs, there is a need for linking small and marginal millet farmers to online marketing platforms, such as the Electronic Agricultural National Market (e-NAM).
The setting up of farmer producer organisations (FPOs) can also enhance the millet producers’ bargaining power in both the domestic and global markets. There is need to learn from the last-mile experiences of approximately 200 millet start-ups that have been incubated in the last few years by young agri-entreprenuers.
Generating Awareness and Capacity Building: There is a need to engage with multiple and varied stakeholders, like doctors, chefs and nutritionists across the country. Both farmers and consumers need to be educated about benefits of Millets. To increase the demand for millets, researchers have to make a stronger case for their nutritional benefits to consumers worried about immunity and health, especially in the post-pandemic world.
There is also a need to develop solutions to improve the shelf life of millets – grains, processed grains, flours to make it comparable to competing crops.
Branding to Popularise: It is necessary to improve marketing strategies in order to increase consumption, as well as improve recipes in order to get millets onto people’s plates and to make them a regular part of their diet. Companies like MTR that make ragi rava idli and ragi dosa breakfast mixes are a good start.
Government Procurement and Distribution: (a) The quantity of coarse grains procured for the Central Pool and distributed under the NFSA must be increased. The latest data on stocks with the Food Corporation of India (FCI) show only 2.64 lakh metric tonnes (LMT) of coarse grain was available in the Central Pool on November 1, 2022. In comparison, the stocks of rice, wheat, and unmilled paddy were 265.97 LMT, 210.46 LMT, and 263.70 LMT respectively; (b) Millets should be included in the Anganwadi Midday Meal Scheme or the PDS, in order to improve the nutritional status of pre-school children and women of reproductive age; (c) Only jowar, bajra, and ragi are covered under the Minimum Support Price (MSP) set by the Government, Other millets should also be included.
The inclusion of millet-based foods in international, national and state-level feeding programs will help to overcome the existing nutrient deficiencies of protein, calcium and iron in developing
Others Steps: (a) International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has helped to revitalise kodo and kutki farming in Madhya Pradesh’s Dindori. There is need to replicate the Dindori model beyond one district and across other millets.
Many varieties of millets, suited to different agro-ecological zones have been documented. These need to be promoted and diverse seed banks created to ensure the availability of planting material.
The cultivation of millet on a broad scale has the potential to assist farmers in safeguarding their livelihoods in the face of climate change. Widespread adoption of millets can also help address the lifestyle diseases like diabetes due to their nutritional value. Government has taken several commendable initiatives to promote millet production. The efforts should be scaled up to further enhance area under millet cultivation.
Syllabus: GS III, Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country.