India is often a land of contradictions. These contradictions owe their origin to our shared history and yet staggering internal diversity. Add to this cauldron, an astounding 1.2 billion people and a desire to claim our stake in 21st century, we, as a nation have reached a point where we face new challenges constantly while old duct-taped issues threaten to fall apart. One of the major issues is food security. This broadly includes what we grow, how we grow, where we grow, the supply chain, the plight of Indian farmers and the resulting suicides, goal of ending extreme hunger and poverty, global warming and extreme climate events, urbanization and globalization, our dietary habits, government policies and international discourse and overall path to sustainable development.
Case In Point
Millets: Time for revival
- Millets with their low water and input requirement and highly nutritious nature and can be the perfect remedy. Once the staple food crop of Asia and Africa, they have seen a marked decline in recent past due to several reasons, prominent being policy neglect. India is the largest producer of millets followed by Nigeria and Niger. However, the period between 1961 and 2009 saw a dramatic decline in cultivated area under millets (80% for small millets, 46% for finger millet, 59% for sorghum and 23% for pearl millet); a 76% decrease in total production of small millets and a steep fall in overall millets consumption in India.
- The millets commonly grown in India include: bajra (pearl millet), jowar (sorghum), ragi (finger millet), barri (proso/common millet), jhangora (barnyard millet), kangni (foxtail/ Italian millet), kodra (kodo millet) etc. They have been part of our indigenous culture for a long time and have different names in different parts of the country.
Reasons for the decline
- Lack of support from government, favouring rice and wheat in public procurement programs. No supply chain and lack of modern technology.
- Public perception of millets as inferior and lack of ready-to-eat products has also led to decline in consumption.
- Low productivity as rain-fed agriculture produces more than 90% of sorghum and other millets from arid and semi-arid regions.
- Millets are coarse and need more processing than other crops, but the machines for these have not reached the farmer yet, and thus production remains low.
Miracle Grains/ Nutri-Cereals
- Small-seeded hardy crops can grow well in dry zones/rain-fed areas under marginal conditions of soil fertility and moisture and require meagre external inputs.
- Short growing season of about 65 days so can be part of multiple cropping systems in both rain-fed and irrigated areas.
- Dual purpose crops; both food and fodder.
- Pest resistant and can be stored for up to two years. Hence, low input cost and less impact on health and environment due to almost no pesticide and insecticide use.
- Most of the millets are highly nutritious, non-glutinous, non-acid forming and easily digestible foods. Being gluten free, individuals suffering from celiac disease can easily incorporate various millets in their diets.
- Millet ingestion helps in a slower release of glucose over a longer period of time; thus, due to low glycaemic index (GI), their habitual intake reduces the risk of diabetes mellitus.
- Nutritionally superior to rice and wheat and no methane emissions unlike paddy and much less thermo-sensitive than wheat.
- Rich sources of minerals like iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium. Ragi (Finger millet) is very rich in calcium; and bajra in iron. These also contain appreciable amounts of dietary fibre and various vitamins (β- Carotene, niacin, vitamin B6 and folic acid)
- Launched in 2012, Initiative for Nutritional Security through Intensive Millets Promotion (INSIMP) was a part of Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY); the only comprehensive initiative to support millet production. INSIMP includes identification of areas with low productivity, promoting better inputs and better post-harvest technology.
- In 2014 Kharif, this INSIMP program was merged with the already existing food security program viz., the National Food Security Mission, as a subgroup (NFSM- Coarse Cereals), but two more coarse grain crops, maize and barley also included in the list, thus reducing focus on millets. The preliminary target for enhancing food grain production is by an additional 25 MT, the share allocated for millets is 2 MT (8% of the enhanced food grain production).
- The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR) and the Karnataka Government will form a consortium along with other stakeholders to promote millets.
- In drought stricken areas of Karnataka, government is trying to incentivize farmers to switch from water guzzling crops like sugarcane and maize to millets. In Tamil Nadu, the government along with civil society is trying to convert fallow lands into millet farms. In Andhra Pradesh, NGO-led community movements are promoting millet cultivation. In Orissa, the government is taking some steps to increase the area of millet cultivation. In Maharashtra, the government has already announced subsidies for millets.
“There is a need to change the image of millets. Make them more modern and create a buzz around them. Developing appropriate consumer products is a key component to achieve this. They are highly nutritious and have health benefits, use less water and have high drought tolerance and increasing their market value benefits farmers” – David Bergvinson, Director-General of ICRISAT
“Millet cultivation provides farmers more economic stability than commercial crops” – Mr P.V. Satish, Convenor, Millet Network of India (MNI)
- Indian population is at risk on both ends of the spectrum i.e. infant mortality, malnutrition and stunted growth on one hand, and, obesity, cardiovascular diseases and other lifestyle diseases on the other. Millets with their nutritive properties should be supported by government policies like procurement and inclusion in PDS, insurance cover and making them part of Mid-day meals in schools. Millets along with rice, wheat and pulses/oilseeds can be used to enhance nutrition in food products such as porridges, chapattis, breads, ladoos, pastas, biscuits, cookies, cakes, and several fermented foods including probiotic drinks.
- Need an integrated approach as,
“…despite the proven advantage of mixed-farming systems, INSIMP is trying to promote intensive mono-cropping of millets. Green Revolution-style, high-external-input agriculture is being advocated through this scheme and the use of chemical inputs is being promoted. There is voluminous scientific evidence to show that such methods are yielding negative results, what with poisoned soil, polluted and plummeting groundwater levels and mounting costs, especially for marginal and small farmers, having come to mark Indian agriculture. Even M S Swaminathan has acknowledged this, in calling for an Evergreen Revolution and the promotion of sustainable agriculture.” (DTE)