Karnataka takes the lead in lobbying with FAO for an ‘international year of millets’

Karnataka is taking the lead in convincing the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to declare a year as an ‘international year of millets’ in a bid to popularise these mineral-rich and drought-tolerant foodgrains at the international level.

The State’s Agriculture Minister Krishna Byre Gowda, who attended a meeting of the Committee on World Food Security in Rome earlier this month, used the occasion to raise the issue with FAO authorities. He asked them to declare one year as an international year of millets and a day as international day of millets.

“If it happens, several activities will be lined up to create awareness about the benefits of millets and it would in turn help their growers,” the Minister told The Hindu.

A high-level delegation of the government of India comprising its Agricultural Ministry officials endorsed his view and made an oral request at the meeting. “Now, we will be taking up the issue with the government of India to make a written request to the FAO,” he said, and added that many high-level functionaries of the FAO were positive about it.

As the next step, Mr. Gowda said they would be putting up a working group of 15 to 16 countries to take up the issue. “The FAO has suggested that there has to be a support for our proposal from a few other countries too,” said Mr. Gowda. The process of identifying other millet-growing and consuming countries had already begun and countries, including France, Indonesia, Ukraine, Poland, Ethiopia, and Sudan, have been shortlisted for the formation of the proposed working group, he said.

Mr. Gowda, who visited some European countries while returning to India to know about the status of millet awareness, said many were now beginning to reintroduce millet-based products. “Our enquiries revealed that millets had been used commonly by those countries several decades ago. Like in India, they too are now trying to restore their prominence by educating people about the importance of millets,” he said.

Rains to help increase millet-growing area

Karnataka’s millet-growing area as well as production are set to get a boost with the recent good spell of rains. The area under cultivation of major millets such as ragi, sorghum and pearl millet is expected to increase by about 15%, while that of all other millets which are classified as minor millets is getting doubled, according to the Agriculture Minister.

Ragi, sorghum and pearl millet account for 17 lakh to 18 lakh hectares while all other millets are grown normally on a total of 19,000 to 20,000 hectares, he pointed out. The State has taken up a ₹34-crore programme for encouraging millet-cultivation.

Mr. Gowda said non-availability of primary processing machine was a major lacunae in the value chain of millets so far as traders were sending the produce to States such as Maharashtra for processing. This was adding to the selling cost of millets. Providing primary processing facilities is expected to help farmers get better prices.

International fair planned in January

Karnataka’s humble millets are set to get international exposure with the State government preparing to organise an international- level fair in January 2018. The three-day event would see international companies getting introduced to the local millet growers’ groups as well as companies that take up exports.

Mr. Gowda told The Hindu that while some of the firms from Europe and the U.S. have already confirmed their participation in the event, a State team will soon visit West Asian countries to invite companies for the event. Apart from business firms, the government is also looking at having scientists, researchers and nutritional experts at the event.

However, there are some practical issues such as building proper linkages which need to be put in place for facilitating smooth exports, since foreign firms are interested not in foodgrains but in products made out of them to suit the tastes and requirements of people of their countries. This would mean that millets should be processed and local companies should be involved to create an array of ready-to-eat food products.

Mr. Gowda said the State millet sector also had to explore domestic market in the wake of increase in awareness among consumers about health benefits of these foodgrains. “We must build a domestic base of supply which can be used as a jump pad for exports to other countries,” he said.

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2021 7:55:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/karnataka-fao-international-year-of-millets/article19899083.ece

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