Context: The United Nations has declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets, and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has singled them out as the “best among grains.” With rising demand for sustainable agriculture, India is looking to market millet as a global panacea.
Prime Minister of India has recently inaugurated a global conference on millets, Millets have been recognized by the government as a potential ally against climate change and malnutrition, and the United Nations has declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets. Promoting millets as a superior crop to rice and wheat ignores the economics of production and could have negative consequences for marginal farmers.
Millets, a group of small-grained cereal crops, are highly resilient to extreme weather conditions and can be grown with minimal chemical inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. Millets are a versatile and healthy grain alternative, as they are both gluten-free and non-allergenic. They are nutri-cereals which are highly nutritious and are known to have high nutrient content which includes protein, essential fatty acids, dietary fibre, B-Vitamins, minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, and magnesium.
Significance & Benefits of Millets:
- Nutritionally rich: Millet grains are an excellent choice for meeting your nutritional needs due to their abundance of nutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, dietary fibre, and good-quality fat. They also possess a variety of phytochemicals, known for their therapeutic properties, which can offer anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative benefits.
- Health benefits: They contain high amounts of antioxidants which are known to effectively reduce both LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and total cholesterol levels while promoting healthy blood vessels, ultimately lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke. Furthermore, millets are beneficial in managing health concerns such as obesity, diabetes, etc.
- Climate Resilient: Millets are an essential component of dry land agriculture, serving as hardy and resilient crops with minimal carbon and water footprint. These “miracle grains” or “crops of the future” possess the ability to endure high temperatures and grow in poor soil conditions, requiring minimal external inputs.
- Ecologically Sustainable: Millet production is not dependent on the use of chemical fertilizers. These crops do not attract pests, and a majority of the millets are not affected by storage pests.
Millets are categorized as Major or Minor Millets based on grain size.
- Sorghum (Jowar)
- Rich in potassium, phosphorous, calcium with sufficient amount of iron, zinc, and sodium.
- Pearl Millet (Bajra)
- Contains considerably high proportion of proteins as well as lipids.
- It is also rich in calcium and unsaturated fats.
- Finger Millet (Ragi)
- Richest source of calcium & it has highest mineral content.
- It has high antioxidant activity.
- Foxtail Millet (Kakum)
- Rich in carbohydrates and has double quantity of protein content compared to rice.
- It contains minerals such as copper and iron.
- Kodo Millet (Kodon)
- It has high protein content, low fat, and very high fibre content.
- It contains high amount of lecithin and is an excellent for strengthening the nervous system.
- Barnyard Millet (Sanwa)
- It is the richest source of crude fibre and iron.
- Little Millet (Kutki/Shavan)
- It is high in iron content.
- It has high antioxidant properties.
- Proso Millet (Chenna/Barri)
- It contains highest amount of protein.
- It is cheaper source of manganese as compared to other conventional source like spices and nuts.
Two prominent pseudo-millets are:
- Amaranth (Ramdana/Rajgira)
- High protein & fibre content
- A rich dietary source of phytosterols, with cholesterol lowering properties.
- Buckwheat (Kuttu) Amaranth (Ramdana/Rajgira)
- It is rich in carbohydrates (mainly starch).
- Contains Vitamin B1, C and E.
Efforts to promote Millets by India:
- India celebrated 2018 as “The National Year of Millets” to promote the production and consumption of millets in the country.
- Recognizing the importance of millets, and creating a domestic and global demand along with providing nutritious food to the people, the Government of India, spearheaded the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution for declaring the year 2023 as International Year of Millets.
- The Government, under the Sub Mission on National Food Security Mission (NFSM) -Nutri-cereals, is creating awareness among farmers for Nutri Cereals (Millets) such as ragi, sorghum, bajra and small millets through demonstration and training.
- Indian Institute of Millets Research in Hyderabad will be promoted as centre of excellence for millets.
- The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) and Agriculture Ministry participated in a trade show in Belgium (in January 2023) wherein a multi-stakeholder delegation showcased the diversity of Indian millets.
Status of Millets Production in India:
- India produces more than 170 lakh tonnes of millet, which is 80 per cent of Asia’s and 20 per cent of global production.
- India produces all the nine commonly known millets and is the largest producer and fifth-largest exporter of millets in the world.
- India recorded 27 per cent growth in millet production in 2021-22 as compared to millet production in the previous year was 15.92 MMT.
- Pearl millet (60%) followed by Sorghum (27%), and Finger millet (11%) are the major millets produced in India (as per the 4th Advance estimate 2021- 22).
- The major millets producing states in India are Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana.
- India exported millets products worth of USD 34.32 million during 2021-22. In 2020- 21, India exported millets worth USD 26.97 million against USD 28.5 million in 2019-20.
The UN General Assembly’s declaration of 2023 as ‘The International Year of Millets’ has paved the way for a global increase in the cultivation of millet. India, being the world’s largest producer of millet, is taking comprehensive measures to capitalize on this opportunity.
However, the success of this movement depends on striking a balance between promoting the advantages of millets, supporting the livelihoods of all farmers, and ensuring food security for all.