Review- International Year of Millet-2023

The United Nation (UN) General Assembly has designated 2023 as the International Year of Millets, aligning with India’s initiative to promote these resilient cereals. This declaration aims to highlight millets crucial role in ensuring global food security and nutrition while focusing on sustainable production. Amidst challenges in agrifood systems, millets emerge as key solutions. Explored in this story are millets, their benefits, and the actions taken during this dedicated “Year of Millets.”

FAO is the lead agency for celebrating the Year in collaboration with other relevant stakeholders. As per the FAO, millet is a comprehensive term encompassing various small-seeded annual grasses cultivated as grain crops, predominantly on marginal lands in dry regions of temperate, subtropical, and tropical zones. Major millet varieties grown in India comprise of: Jowar or Sorghum, Bajra or Pearl Millet, Ragi or Finger Millet, Kangni or Foxtail Millet, Sama or Little Millet, Kodo, Barnyard and Proso Millets etc.

In terms of nutritional content, millets serve as excellent sources of carbohydrates, dietary fiber, micronutrients and phytochemicals with nutraceutical properties. They make significant contributions to both human and animal diets. Numerous studies have highlighted the nutritional superiority of millets compared to staple crops like rice and wheat. For example, finger millet (ragi) boasts a calcium content ten times higher than that of wheat or rice. Additionally, millets have a low Glycaemic Index (GI), associated with diabetes prevention, and are gluten-free.

Millets stand out as sustainable crops with minimal water and carbon footprint. Research from ICRISAT reveals that a single millet plant typically needs significantly less water compared to nearly 2.5 times the water required by a rice plant. Additionally, millets thrive in relatively poor soils and adverse, arid conditions, demanding less fertilizer and irrigation compared to other cereals. Millet become ready for harvest in 2.5 months. Therefore farmers can grow millets several times a year. Their inherent resistance to pests and diseases further adds to their resilience. Beyond aiding in the fight against climate change and enhancing food security, millets have the potential to create livelihoods and boost farmers’ income.

Nevertheless, during the 1960s, the Green Revolution shifted its focus to grains such as rice and wheat, aiming to achieve food security. This shift led to a decline in both the consumption and production of millets in the country. Prior to the Green Revolution, millets constituted approximately 40% of all cultivated grains, but this proportion decreased to around 20% over the years.

Measures are being taken to mainstream millets in India

  1. Macro Management of Agricultural (MMA) Scheme is one of the major initiatives of the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India. Under this scheme- Integrated Cereal Development Program in Coarse Cereals Based Cropping Systems Areas (ICDP-Coarse Cereals) was introduced.
  2. In 2011-12, the government launched the Initiative for Nutritional Security through Intensive Millets Promotion (INSIMP) to boost millet area, productivity, and production. Subsequently, it became a component of the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) as NFSM-Coarse Cereals from 2014-15.
  3. Around one year later, in 2013, the National Food Security Act became effective, encompassing subsidies on coarse grains in addition to rice and wheat.
  4. In 2018, a government circular mandated that millets be recognized as ‘nutri-cereals’ for production, consumption, and trade. Additionally, it outlined the inclusion of millets in the country’s Public Distribution System, aligning with the recommendations of a government-appointed committee.
  5. In the budget speech for 2023-24, the Finance Minister highlighted India’s position as the largest millet producer and fifth largest exporter. With India taking a lead in celebrating the Year of Millets in 2023 and actively promoting millets, there is a substantial opportunity to establish significant international markets for Indian millets. The country aims to generate both domestic and global demand for millets, emphasizing strategies to boost climate-resilient nutri-cereal production, consumption, export, and branding.

To raise awareness domestically, the government has initiated various campaigns, including millet food festivals in the parliament, the release of recipe books, and the organization of quizzes, caption contests, and recipe competitions. NABARD has encourage new farmers to cultivate millets. As a ‘superfood,’ millet is gaining global attention for its valuable health benefits, with people worldwide becoming increasingly aware of its nutritional advantages.  So we can say that;

Millets were the first crops,  Millets are the future crops !

Do you know?

The tribal farmer from Odisha- Raimati Ghiuria was invited to commemorate the ‘International Year of Millets’. She has preserved 30 varieties of millets and trained hundreds of women. For her work, Raimati has been entitled ‘Millet Queen’ at the state level this year.