How can India boost millets cultivation?
- The United Nations has, at India’s initiative, declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets.
India’s millet production status
- India’s own production of these “nutri cereals” — jowar, bajra and ragi and minor millets such as kodo, kutki, kakun, sanwa, cheena and kuttu has fallen from 23-24 million to 19-20 million tonnes over the last 4-5 decades.
Reasons for low levels of production
- Millets aren’t the first choice either of consumers or producers.
- Kneading dough and rolling rotis is much easier with wheat than with millet flour.
- Wheat has gluten proteins that make the dough more cohesive and elastic.
- The resultant breads come out soft, unlike with millets that are gluten-free.
- The public distribution system (PDS) has made rice and wheat accessible even to the rural poor, for whom these were previous aspirational cereals.
- For farmers, too, millets are orphan crops. With access to irrigation, they will immediately switch to growing wheat and rice that yield 3-4 times more than jowar or bajra.
Advantages of cultivating millet
- Millets have nutritional superiority over wheat and rice whether in terms of amino acid profile or vitamins, minerals and crude fiber content.
- They are also hardier and drought-resistant crops, which has to do with their short growing season (70-100 days, as against 120-150 days for paddy and wheat) and lower water requirement (350-500 mm versus 600-1,200 mm).
How to boost millet cultivation?
- Promote their cultivation in rain-fed semi-arid and hilly terrain areas where they have been well-adapted.
- Incentivise farmers in western Rajasthan, southern Karnataka or eastern Madhya Pradesh who are already cultivating bajra, ragi and minor millets to not shift to rice and wheat.
- Develop these districts/regions as clusters for particular millets like Dindori in MP for kodo and kutki.
How to boost millet consumption?
- A region-specific strategy and their introduction in mid-day meals in schools and anganwadis could boost millet consumption.
- The schools and anganwadis can serve khichdi, dosas, energy bars and puddings made from locally-sourced millets, along with a daily glass of milk and egg for every child.
- The need for wholesome nutrition would also be more for children in the very regions that are suited for millet cultivation.
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