Millets could help India mitigate malnutrition and climate change

Synopsis: India should incentivize the production of millets to enhance food security and score gains on climate resilience.

Introduction

In 2021, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring 2023 the International Year of Millets. It was proposed by India to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

How are millets significant for India?

Environmental and social benefits: Millets possess immense potential in the battle against climate change and poverty and provide food, nutrition, fodder and livelihood security.

Agri-growth: India is the largest global producer with a 41% market share. A compound annual growth rate of 4.5% is projected for the global millet market in the coming decade.

Restoration of ecosystems and sustainability: Land degradation has been a major problem in India. Drought-tolerant crops with low dependence on chemical inputs would put far less pressure on ecosystems.

Biofuel and climate resilience: Millets also offer a significant cost advantage over maize as a feedstock for bio-ethanol production.

Addressing SDGs: Millet farming has led to women’s empowerment. The Odisha Millet Mission saw 7.2 million women emerge as ‘agri-preneurs’.

What steps have been taken by the govt?

Millet Mission: It was launched in 2018 as part of the National Food Security Mission, which has led to the promotion of technological interventions, improvement in seed quality and a minimum support price (MSP) for bajra and jowar.

Millet Network of India and the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation: Both were involved in collective formation efforts to boost the domestic growth of millets.

What are the challenges?

Market and economic barriers: Unjust pricing and intermediaries have led to farmer distress. Market dynamics don’t favour the growth of millets.

Barriers to growth: A rise in incomes and urbanization, together with inadequate government policies has led to millets being used for various purposes other than for consumption.

What measures can govt take?

Incentivizing the adoption of inter-cropping and providing crop insurance: The inter-cropping of millets with other crops is beneficial because the fibrous roots of millet plants help in improving soil quality, keep water run-off in check and aid soil conservation in erosion-prone areas, thereby restoring natural ecosystems.

Re-introduction of cultural associations and festivals: such as the North-East Network in Nagaland organized in 2020 and Mandukiya in Vishakhapatnam celebrated annually in June/July, has helped promote the growth of millets.

In 2018, the #LetsMilletCampaign in Bengaluru saw the experimental use of millets in dishes such as risotto and pizza by restaurateurs.

State support: The Odisha Millet Mission has reportedly managed to motivate about 70,000 farmers to take up millet farming as part of this programme.

Source: This post is based on the article “Millets could help India mitigate malnutrition and climate change” published in Livemint on 6th September 2021.

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