A famous proverb from the nomadic, pastoral people of northern Uganda called Acholi goes – ‘The growing millet does not fear the sun.’
While this is more meant to be a laudatory statement for the fearless and their actions, millets have been part of folklore since ages.
The earliest usage of this staple with a tiny, pale yellow seed and nutty flavour dates back to 3,000 BC in Indus civilisation. Millets were indeed the first domesticated plants for food.
It’s no coincidence that when Government of India pitched to United Nations for declaring 2023 as the International Year of Millets (IYOM), the proposal garnered support from 72 nations.
On 5 March 2021, United Nation’s General Assembly (UNGA) declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets.
What are millets
Millets have been part of humankind’s staple food since time immemorial. They are a collective group of small seeded grasses, that are grown as grain crops in 131 countries.
They are the staples for 59 crore people in Asia and Africa. In Tamil mythology, the famed narrative of courtship of Murugan with Valli alludes to millets - when Valli is sent to defend millet field against birds, and she offers Murugan some millet flour mixed with honey.
Millets have rightfully been termed as nutri-cereals, and Dr MS Swaminathan, father of India’s green revolution was quoted saying that millets could make our nation “hunger free”. Not for no reason. The prime advantages of millets are as below:
Can grow on poor soil: Millets do not require much water, can grow on relatively poor soil, and gets ready in a much shorter time.
Rich in nutrition: Millets have been termed super-grains. They are rich in proteins, Vitamin B, iron, calcium, and phytochemicals. While 100 g of rice contains 130 calories, millets have just 119.
Similarly, millets fare better in terms of carbohydrate content (23.7 g) versus rice (28.7 g). Likewise for Calcium content (3mg versus 1 mg for rice).
Can tackle lifestyle induced disorders: Millets are gluten-free, rich in anti-oxidants, and easy to digest. They are known to reduce risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Millets also act as a deterrent to colon cancer, constipation, and gastro-intestinal complications. They also reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Effective push-back against climate change: Millets are fit for dryland and no-till farming. They are resistant to drought and heat.
Types of millet
Millets are of various types, and each is replete with it’s own share of benefits. Some common types are as below:
Sorghum (Cholam) – Improves metabolism
Foxtail millet (Thinai) – Controls blood sugar and cholesterol
Pearl millet – Minimizes type 2 diabetes
Finger millet (Ragi) – Popular in south India and has anti-oxidant properties
Barnyard millet (Kudiraivali) – Has low glycemic index
Proso millet (Panivaragu) – Fit for dryland farming
Kodo millet (Varagu) – Good for diabetes
Producers of millet
India, Nigeria, and China are the largest producers of millets globally. Together, they constitute more than 55 per cent of world production.
India is the largest producer, accounting for 80 per cent of Asia’s and 20 per cent of global production. Within India, the top five states for millet production are Rajasthan (Bajra/Sorghum), Karnataka (Jowar/Ragi), Maharashtra (Ragi/Jowar), UP (Bajra), and Haryana (Bajra).
Steps adopted by India to promote Millets
Since about 2018, Indian government has actively promoted this important nutri-grain through a slew of effective measures.
'Sub Mission on Millets’ has been formed under National Food Security Mission since 2018. This was augmented by several states launching their missions on Millets.
Under the Poshan Mission Abhiyan by Ministry of women and child development, millets were included as part of same.
Under Indian Institute of Millet Research (IIMR), 200 startups with cumulative turnover greater than Rs 320 crore were incubated.
This was complemented by technology backstopping for 400+ entrepreneurs with turnover of greater than Rs 900 crore. These were further augmented by 67 value added technologies developed at Centers of Excellence.
13 high yielding varieties have been released, including 4 bio-fortified varieties.
Indian government proposed to UN for making 2023 as the International Year of Millets (IYOM).
How is GoI preparing for the International Year of Millets (IYOM), 2023
Indian government has planned to celebrate IYOM, and uphold benefits of millets to the Indian populace, via myriad initiatives.
A core committee has been formed, and six task forces constituted.
Consultations have been held with states, processors, chefs/nutritionists, farmers/FPOs in June, 2021.
On Oct, 2021, Agriculture Minister sent letters to all chief ministers and Lt Governors requesting focus on Millets for 2023 as part of IYOM.
Showcases – Millet Movement in India was published by ICRISAT. In Nov, 2021, Millets were displayed in India International Trade Fair.
In Feb, 2022, in the Dubai expo, Millets were showcased along side FPOs and startups on Millets. From March to April of 2022, the Surajkund Mela saw Millets getting displayed.
Seven key focus areas have been identified to promote this nutri-cereal. They are as below:
Increase of production and productivity – Strengthening quality seed chain, crop diversification
Nutrition and health benefits – Greater awareness via ‘Eat Right Campaign’, promote bio fortification of millets, awareness among mothers through Mothers Committees of Anganwaadi
Value-addition, processing, and recipe development – Strengthening of 3 CoEs with advanced infrastructure, development of primary processing clusters at Farm Gate, PLI scheme for Millet products
Entrepreneurship, startup, and collective development
Awareness creation via branding, labelling, and promotion
International outreach – Integral part of ‘Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’
Policy interventions to mainstream millets
The tenets of ‘Jan Bhagidari’ (mass participation) and ‘Samvad’ (continuous exchange of information with masses) that the present-day government harps on as cornerstone to a thriving democracy, have been remarkably upheld again in conceptualising, implementing, and promoting International Year of Millets. ‘
Hungry chicken dreams of millet’, goes a Bulgarian proverb. Come 2023, and it will not just be chicken, but an entire India - and world at large - which will talk and celebrate this cereal.
Time to bask under the sun for this lesser-publicised foodgrain is finally here!
Debraj is a management and digital transformation consultant, and has worked with leading consulting organizations globally. His sectoral expertise is Retail (apparel, grocery) and Consumer Goods. He had done his MBA from IIM-Ahmedabad, and he harbours an avid interest in policy-making.
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