Focus on Millets

I Satya Sundaram

The UN-declared 2023 as the International Year of Mil lets at the suggestion of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Currently, millets are being grown in more than 130 countries. In India, millets are primarily khaif crops. They are referred to as coarse cereals. It is true; the Green Revolution could solve the problem of famines. However, it provided food security only, not nutrition security. No serious efforts were made towards balanced and diversified diet.

In India, the incidence of malnutrition is high. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 5 conducted in 2019-20, 35.5 percent of children under the age of five in India are stunted (low height for age), 19.3 percent wasted ((low weight for height), and 32.1 percent underweight. According to FAO’s The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2020 Report, about 190 million Indians are undernourished, comprising 14 percent of total population.

Millets have high nutritional value. Millets like bajra, ragi and jowar are a perfect food for Indians due to the high nutritional value and high fibre content. Millets require little water, can withstand heat, and do not readily attract pests. Higher shelf life and balanced protein, fat and fibre content, make millets the best contender for addressing the consumer needs of the rising middle class.

Millets enjoy a low status in the world and also in India. The millets market globally is estimated at $ 9 billion in 2019. India is the world’s leading producer of millets accounting for over 40 percent of global production. Millet production has remained stagnant over the last decade. Millet cultivation is unprofitable for farmers, due to lower yields and the difficulty in processing millets on the farm. Due to high cost of millet procurement and processing as well as the commissions paid to multiple distribution channels, the farmer is forced to price his product at Rs 70 for a 150 ml pack. The average yield of millets is about 2000 kg/ha, which is half that of paddy due to lack of research on new seed varieties, seed banks, innovative scientific practices.

While millet yield in India tripled from 414 kg/ha in 1961 to 1,352 kg/ha in 2021, the percentage of area under millets halved from more than 30 million ha to 13.6 million ha in the same period. The per capita consumption of millets declined by 38.6 percent between 1972-73 and 1987-88 in rural areas. India is one of the leading producers and exporters of millets in the world, with an estimated share of around 41 percent in global production. India’s export of millets increased from $59.75 million in 2020-21 to $64.28 million in 2021-22.

Even though the minimum support price (MSP) of millets has been raised by 80 to 125 percent between 2013-14 and 2021-22, their combined production has dropped by 7 percent to 15.6 million tonnes during the last eight years. Of course, due to scarcity in cattle feed, jowar prices increased. Because of climate change, the yields are fluctuating.

The Centre has asked States to procure more nutri-cereals. It fixed the target of 7.5 lakh tonnes (LT) during 2022-23 (October-September). Karnataka alone will buy 6 LT of ragi and 1 LT of jowar. Of course, States have been allowed to distribute surplus millets to other States. Schemes like ICDS, mid-day meal and PDS should be strengthened. The start-ups too should take interest in millets. The Government has decided to provide incentives to food companies to launch millet-based new products that contain at least 15 percent millet. The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) can incentivise commercial cultivation of millets schemes like “one district one product” or cluster farming for trade promotion.

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Vol 56, No. 9, Aug 27 - Sep 2, 2023