Mulling over millets
NEW DELHI: During her Union Budget speech this year, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman drew attention to millets and the government’s plans to popularise them nationally and globally. Stating that the food grain was on the government’s priority list, the Minister remarked that millets could help India address its food security concerns and offer farmers a dependable all-weather cash crop. The coarse grains are being seen as a means of sustainable cultivation for farmers hailing from arid regions, thanks to their low water and input requirements as well as their cultivation not being dependent on chemical fertilisers.
In January, the government spearheaded the UNGA resolution to declare 2023 as the International Year of Millets and the proposal was supported by 72 countries. India happens to be the largest producer of millets and the second largest exporter of coarse grains globally. There are a few reasons why the government is training its focus on millets, which include grains like jowar, ragi, bajra, ramdana, cheena, and saama, as a food staple for the masses.
As per the Economic Survey 2023, India is responsible for producing 80 per cent of Asia’s and 20 per cent of the global production of millets. India’s average yield of millet is 1,239 kg/ha, as compared to the global average of 1,229 kg/ha. The cultivation of nutritious millets by small farmers is being seen as a ray of hope for the sector. Prior to the Green Revolution of the 1960s, millets, known as the grains of the poor, made up around 40 per cent of all the grains cultivated in the country, a figure that has now whittled down to about 20 per cent.
The area under production of millets has reduced with the coarse grains making way for commercial crops, oil seeds, maize and pulses. The profitability of these commercial crops has led them to be supported with various policy-based measures, like subsidised inputs, incentivised procurement as well as prioritised inclusion in the Public Distribution System.
This has led to change in India’s dietary patterns, with a majority of the populace opting for fine cereals that are rich in calorific value. It is imperative to increase the production of millets while mainstreaming it to the consumption basket, a task which the industries will have to take on. Private enterprises in the hospitality and start-up space have been encouraged to highlight the nutritional benefits of millets, which include them being nutritionally superior to wheat and rice owing to their higher protein levels and a more balanced amino acid profile.
The government has come up with campaigns like Eat Right India to create awareness about food safety at the grassroots level and educate people on healthier food choices. To transform India into a global hub for the development of coarse grains, the Indian Institute of Millet Research in Hyderabad will be turned into a Center of Excellence for sharing best practices, research and technology.
Farmers believe there is more to be done to make millets palatable to the masses. Incentives are needed to ensure stable income to the cultivators. Higher procurement and enhanced distribution under PDS will also go a long way in encouraging millet farmers. Yield enhancing measures also need to be introduced as part of such initiatives. While the Centre has approved a PLI scheme for millet based products to amp up consumption beyond subsistence farming, concrete measures are needed to increase millet cultivation in the country.
Visit news.dtnext.in to explore our interactive epaper!
Download the DT Next app for more exciting features!
Click here for iOS
Click here for Android