Despite their nutritional qualities and climate resilience, the consumption of finger millets in India declined by 47 per cent, while intake of other small millets fell by 83 per cent in the last five decades, according to DHAN Foundation.
The reason for the decline has been attributed to easy availability of rice and wheat through PDS that resulted in food consumption away from the small millets in the producing regions, during 1961-2009.
Similarly, cultivation of small millets declined from 7.22 million hectare to 2.2 millon hectare during 1961-2009 period, M Karthikeyan, Project Leader of the foundation, said.
Inadequate investments on product development and commercial ratio, low social status of small millet food, resistance to dietary habits and lack of knowledge on the use of small millets in the daily diet have been constraining its consumption, Mr. Karthikeyan said.
The project has adopted farmer-led context specific technology development and innovative promotional approach through private and public channels in order to increase the production and consumption of millets in eight regions including India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, he said.
Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), one of the partners of the project, led by the Foundation, has developed an improved centrifugal dehulling prototype, which has reduced the drudgery of women by 70 per cent, he said.
While cereals in the current market context provide a cheaper source of dietary calories, small millet offer >better nutrition with various micro nutrients like calcium, iron and sulphur, he claimed.
Besides, Foundation and TNAU, WASSAN, All India Coordinated Small Millets Improved Project, ICAR, and Canadian Mennonite University are core partners of the project, he said.
For enhancing demand, research was undertaken by University of Guelph, along with TNAU for proving the health benefits and highlighting 36 attractive small millet products, both traditional and modern ones, as part of the project, Mr. Karthikeyan said.