The story so far: The Centre on Sunday kicked off the International Year of Millets, announcing a host of activities across the country to promote the cultivation and consumption of the ‘nutri-cereal’. Central ministries, State governments and Indian embassies will hold events throughout the year to promote and spread awareness about the benefits of millets for the “cultivator, consumer and climate”. A government release has said millets will also be an integral part of G-20 meetings. India assumed the Presidency of the G-20 summit in December.
What are millets and how are they beneficial?
Millets are part of a group of small-grained cereal crops used as both food and fodder. According to the book “ Millet in your meals”, about 6,000 varieties of these grains with varying colours exist around the world. Experts believe them to be one of the oldest foods known to humans and the first among cereals to be cultivated for domestic purposes. There is even evidence of the consumption of millet in the Indus Valley civilisation. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon apparently included millet among their treasured plants.
Millets were earlier referred to as “coarse cereals” or “cereals of the poor”. The Union government renamed these as “nutri-cereals” owing to their high nutritional value. Millets offer more than one nutrient to the diet and are considered more nutritious than rice and wheat. Millets are rich in iron, dietary fibre, calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and vitamins such as thiamine, riboflavin, folic acid, and niacin. These grains contain 7-12% protein, 2-5% fat, 65-75% carbohydrates and 15-20% dietary fibre. Millets are also gluten-free.
Growing millets is also beneficial for farmers since this rain-fed crop requires less fertile land and water,, growing fairly well on dry land. They have a short growing season as compared to other major crops and can be grown in intercropping or under mixed cropping with pulses and oil seeds. With a low carbon and water footprint, millet crops can be cultivated without extensive use of fertilisers and pesticides and can survive extreme weather. Presently, millets are grown in more than 130 countries and consumed as a traditional food by over half a billion people across Asia and Africa.
Millet production and food security
India is the largest producer of millet in the world with a share of 41% in 2020, as per FAO. Nine types are grown as kharif crops in over 20 States in the country. Major millets include finger millet (ragi or mandua), pearl millet (bajra) and sorghum (jowar) and minor millets include foxtail millet (kangani or kakun), barnyard millet (sawa or sanwa, jhangora), little millet (kutki), kodo millet (kodon), proso millet (cheena) and browntop millet. Rajasthan, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh are leading producers.
Though productivity has increased over the years, the area under cultivation of millets declined, especially after the Green Revolution, with a policy thrust on other grains. This gradually impacted the expansion of millets production in the country. In 2019, India accounted for 80% of the total production of these grains in Asia and 20% globally — around 170 lakh tonnes from138 lakh hectares of land, providing yield per hectare greater than the global average, FAO data shows. India is also among the top five exporters— India exported millets worth $64.28 million in 2021-22 and $59.75 million in 2020-21, according to the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority.
Despite offering high benefits to both the consumer and producer, millets are not very popular mainly due to a lack of awareness. But at a time when the world is battling a pandemic and climate change, and faces a significant challenge of food security, the nutri-cereal can play a significant role if marketed well, focusing on their high nutritional value, low input and maintenance requirements and climate-resilient nature. Problems of unavailability of good quality seeds, restricted cultivation, the low shelf life of grains, lack of research, absence of machinery for processing and market gaps also need to be addressed to tap into their true potential to increase farmers’ income, generate livelihoods and ensure food and nutritional security.
The global push
An ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, climate change, and trade restrictions among other factors have jeopardised global food security. As per the latest State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report, the world is moving backwards in its efforts to end hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition. Faced with the growing challenge of food and nutritional security, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) declared 2023 the International Year of Millets to spread awareness about millets — a more affordable, sustainable, and nutritious alternative. The resolution was unanimously adopted by the UNGA in March 2021 after India proposed the initiative.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has termed the initiative as an opportunity to “raise awareness and direct policy attention to the nutritional benefits of millets and their suitability for cultivation”.
Last month, the FAO launched the IYM in Italy and highlighted that the promotion of millets aligns with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — zero hunger, good health and well-being, decent work and economic growth, responsible consumption and production, climate action and life on land. “Millets are incredible ancestral crops with high nutritional value. Millets can play an important role and contribute to our collective efforts to empower smallholder farmers, achieve sustainable development, eliminate hunger, adapt to climate change, promote biodiversity, and transform agri-food systems,” said FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu
Following the launch, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also expressed his gratitude to co-sponsors. He said India was honoured to be at the forefront of the initiative. “…consumption of millets furthers nutrition, food security and welfare of farmers, offers research and innovation opportunities for agriculture scientists and start-up communities, the PM added.
India’s efforts to promote millet
The Union government promoted millets under the Initiative for Nutritional Security through Intensive Millets Promotion (INSIMP), as a sub-scheme of Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) between 2011 and 2014. In the following years, NITI Aayog worked on a framework to introduce millets under the public distribution system for “nutritional support”.
The Union government declared 2018 as the ‘national year of millets’ to trigger an increase in demand. In the same year, these grains were officially rebranded as a nutri-cereal. The programme under INSIMP was merged with the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) as NFSM-Coarse Cereals and implemented in 14 States. Several States led separate missions to promote millets. In 2021, the Centre approved the Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman (PM POSHAN), earlier known as the mid-day meal scheme, in government and government-aided schools and advised State governments to include millets in the midday meal menu to enhance the nutritional outcome.
Also read |Time to make the millet mighty again
India’s efforts to promote the consumption and production of millet got a boost when the UNGA accepted the country’s proposal and dedicated 2023 to spreading awareness about these grains. “The declaration has been instrumental for the Government of India to be at the forefront in celebrating the IYM,” the agriculture ministry said in a statement and reiterated the PM’s vision to make IYM 2023 a ‘people’s movement’ and positioning India as the ‘global hub for millets’.
As per a government release, Union Ministries, States and Indian embassies have been allocated a ‘focused month’ each in 2023 to promote the humble millet. The Union Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs, as well as the Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Rajasthan governments will conduct events and activities for IYM in January. The Sports Ministry will carry out 15 activities over 15 days in January and engage sportspersons, nutritionists and fitness experts to talk about millets.
- Central ministries, State governments and Indian embassies will hold events throughout the year to promote and spread awareness about the benefits of millets for the “cultivator, consumer and climate.”
- Millets are part of a group of small-grained cereal crops used as both food and fodder. Millets were earlier referred to as “coarse cereals” or “cereals of the poor”. The Union government renamed these as “nutri-cereals” owing to their high nutritional value.
- India is the largest producer of millet in the world with a share of 41% in 2020, as per FAO.
- The Union government declared 2018 as the ‘national year of millets’ to trigger an increase in demand.
- India’s efforts to promote the consumption and production of millet got a boost when the UNGA accepted the country’s proposal and dedicated 2023 to spreading awareness about these grains.