Recognising The Potential Of Millets

By Nusrat Pathan November 14, 2023

India's millet promotion strategy is not just about promoting a healthier diet but also addressing agricultural sustainability, climate change and food security concerns

Recognising The Potential Of Millets
Millets are touted as a superfood as they are sources of carbohydrates, protein, fibre, and calcium. Shutterstock

Kasturi Bishi is a small farmer from Bargarh district, Odisha. She owns a small 0.5-acre land in Sampali village. Some time ago, Bishi got associated with a local producer group that told her about the benefits of growing millets.

An all-season crop, millets can be grown in both times of flood and drought. As Bishi got to know about the minimum capital requirement for growing millets, she started growing it on her small piece of land. Her hard work bore a sweet fruit of four quintals of millets that generated an annual income of Rs 15,360 for her in FY2022-23.

It is for farmers like Bishi that the government is promoting the cultivation and consumption of millets. Thanks to India’s efforts, the United Nations designated 2023 as the International Year of Millets. From finding their place in the food menus at the recently concluded G20 Summit to being featured in the cuisine that PM Narendra Modi enjoyed at the White House, US, earlier this year, this is indeed the year of millets.

Millets belong to the family of cereals, but because of their coarse texture, they were often seen as playing a second fiddle to their rich cousins rice and wheat. Millets are more resilient to water scarcity and can thrive in semi-arid regions, making them a sustainable choice for Indian agriculture.

This diversification can also help mitigate the impact of climate change, as millets are more adaptable to erratic weather patterns. In fact, millets are touted as a superfood as they are sources of carbohydrates, protein, fibre, and calcium.

Thus, it makes sense that India is focusing on millets, and hence, the world is now focusing on its health benefits. India's millet promotion strategy is not just about promoting a healthier diet but also addressing agricultural sustainability, climate change, and food security concerns.

Earlier this year, when PM Modi inaugurated 2023 as the International Year of Millets, he had said, “Millets are not just grains; they are our heritage, rich in nutrition, and well-suited to our climate. Through the International Year of Millets, we aim to create greater awareness about their immense potential in improving the health of our citizens and conserving our environment."

Governments and organisations worldwide are recognising the potential of millets and taking concerted steps to promote their cultivation and consumption. Since the government wants farmers to grow millets, it is fully supportive of farmers wanting to grow the crop. The government has provided incentives for millet cultivation, easy access to loans, and subsidies on seeds and equipment used for production.

Besides, the government has included millets in the Public Distribution System and the Mid-Day Meal Schemes in schools. To further create awareness among citizens, the government has initiated workshops on health benefits of millets. These campaigns focus on building millets as a preferential choice of food for everyone in society and as a healthy alternative to other higher-priced cereals.

Various events and exhibitions, such as the International Trade Fair on Organics and Millets, have been organised to showcase the diverse uses of millets and their products. These efforts aim to create a buzz around millets and encourage consumers to incorporate them into their daily diets. The National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture has played a significant role in promoting millets.

Under this mission, financial incentives and support is provided to farmers who cultivate millets. This has encouraged many farmers to switch to millet cultivation, contributing to the overall goal of increased production.

In this pursuit, the government has been ably supported by the private sector, which has joined in to celebrate Millets. Major FMCG companies have launched millet-based meals to promote their consumption in society. Food processing companies have started incorporating millets into a wide range of products, from snacks and breakfast cereals to baked goods and ready-to-eat meals.

This diversification of millet-based products not only caters to changing consumer preferences but also opens up new markets for millets.Many Indian companies, as part of their CSR initiatives, are actively contributing to the betterment of millet cultivation and consumption.

Initiatives involve training of farmers, provision of quality inputs, market linkages for promotion of millets as an additional source of sustainable income for farmers, and promotion of nutrition programmes to help address the issue of malnutrition in rural areas. Awareness is being created on the ground among the deeper geographies of the country by word of mouth, workshops and melas, etc to create awareness among farmers and citizens to shift to millets.

Millets have extraordinary health benefits. Besides, they are also financially feasible for our farmers. For the twin purposes of production and consumption, all of us must come together to support their growth. We must buy millet-based foods to support our farmer brothers and sisters.

By diversifying our agriculture, promoting nutritional security, and creating value chains, we can harness the potential of millets to transform the local and global food landscape. Through commitment and collaboration among various stakeholders, there is a strong hope for a healthier and more sustainable future for India's food systems.

(Nusrat Pathan is the Head of CSR, HDFC Bank.)