- The Ministry of Food Processing Industries inaugurated the National Conference on Millets on the theme ‘The Future Super Food for India’ in New Delhi. The conference has been organised to discuss opportunities and challenges in ensuring food and nutritional security.
Millets & the Indian Sub-Continent
- Some of the millets have been grown for more than 2000-3000 years and we find references to them in our cultural & religious customs, songs and texts.
- Sadly, the production of millets has not been given much attention over the years and our agricultural policies have systematically encouraged production of wheat & rice at the cost of millets and coarse cereals.
- There is a reduction in the total area under millet cultivation. While in 1965-66 it stood at almost 37 million hectares, it was down to 14.72 million hectares in 2016-17.
Socio-Economic Context of Millets
- Millets were considered the food of the poor due to their ability to grow even in the most marginalised of lands, compared to other crops like paddy or wheat which needed more fertile lands and more focus on irrigation and crop management.
- Millets were also ideal for rain-fed conditions and saline soils. As a result they were used as the main cereals in most households.
- However, the desire to eat more refined grains associated with social status, the drudgery of cleaning & de-hulling the minor millets, upward mobility & favourable policies like easy availability of wheat & paddy in the public distribution system also contributed to a reduction in the demand for millets.
- A declining diversity in diet which was traditionally a part of our food culture had many significant impacts in terms of the nutrition status amongst women and children. The focus on just wheat and paddy rice reduced nutrition in food to a large extent.
- However, recent trends show a renewed interest in millets. The government policies are also starting to reflect this renewal. Millets have been included in the public distribution system in Odisha and the government is also promoting millets under the National Food Security Act.
- At the behest of the Indian government, the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation has approved its proposal to declare the year 2023 as the International Year of Millets.
Millets — Good for Health, Farmers, & Environment
- In the current changing agro-climatic narrative across the world, it is essential that our agricultural policies see a shift from existing practices.
- According to a recent study, in the coming years there will be a reduction in production rates of various cereal crops due to climate change. The only crops that could withstand these climate vagaries and not see a negative impact on yield are millets.
- Millets have a double value in tackling climate change because they contribute to both adaptation and mitigation.
- Millets survive in much higher temperatures than most crops and can survive with much less water (1/4 of the water required by rice). Their overall resilience makes them climate smart and a good adaptation strategy for farmers.
- Millets also are farmed with minimal fertilizers and pesticides, so they have a lower carbon footprint. Millets compared to rice reduces Green House Gases 2% to 13%.
- Millets are also highly nutritious and have the potential to be a solution to the nutrition crisis facing the country.
- A study by International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) found that children grew up to 50% more in weight and height parameters on a millet based diet.
- Millets are also being hailed as the solution for many lifestyle diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, digestive disorders, gluten allergies and much more.
- We are witnessing a renewed interest in millets in our country. However, we are still in the early years of this millet revival and there is a long way to go.
- In addition to using millets as staples, companies are also working on creating value added products such as millet cookies, breakfast cereals, noodles, etc. to increase consumer acceptance and ease of use.
- To reap the maximum nutritional benefits from millets, it is essential to encourage them as staple foods.
- By including more millets in our diet, we all have the power not just to take charge of our own health & immunity but also impact the climate and farmers’ lives in a positive way.