Editorial Articles

Issue no 26, 24-30 September 2022

How Superfood Millets Fill The Nutrition Gap

Sandip Das

Millets, considered as Superfood, play a crucial role in dealing with the nutritional requirements of a large number of people. With the Government giving thrust on increasing production of millets through various schemes and supporting entrepreneurship and the UN celebrating the International Year of Millets in 2023, India is poised to play a key role in expanding millets' value chain at the domestic as well as global level.

Millets were considered ancient food grains and first plants domesticated for food. They are grown in more than 130 countries and are traditional food for 59 crore people in Asia and Africa. Millets are a rich source of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibres. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, millets are a collective group of small seeded annual grasses that are grown as grain crops, primarily on marginal land in dry areas of temperate, subtropical and tropical regions.

In India, millets are mostly grown in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Haryana. The millet production in the country has increased from 17.26 million tonnes (MT) during 2019-20 to 18.02 MT in 2020-21. India has 80% and 40% share in production of millets in Asia and the world respectively.

Main varieties of millets grown in India include:

·         Pearl millet (Bajra) 

·         Sorghum (Jowar) 

·         Finger millet (Ragi) 

·         Small millet (Kutki) 

·         Foxtail millet (Kangani/ Kakun) 

·         Barnyard millet (Sawa/ Sanwa/Jhangora) 

·         Kodo millet

According to the Agriculture Ministry, Bajra accounts for 61% of the total millet production in the country, Jowar - 27%, and Ragi - 10%, the other millets make for the remaining 2 %.

 GoI's Initiatives for Promoting Millets

In a major boost to production and exports of nutricereals like millet, Finance Minister Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman, in her Union Budget (2022-23) speech, announced assistance for postharvest value addition and branding of millet products in the domestic as well as global markets. She proposed a policy push for branding of Indian millets, key ingredients in the breakfast cereals, biscuits and healthy snack segments.

Celebrating 2023 as International Year of Millets:

In 2021, the Government of India put forth a proposal before the United Nations (UN) for declaring 2023 as International Year of Millets (IYOM). India's proposal was accepted with 72 countries in support. Preparations are on in full swing to celebrate 2023 as the Inter-national Year of Millets by promoting Indian millets, recipes, and value added products at the global level. The campaign aims at promoting the health benefits of millets and their suitability under the changing climatic conditions globally. By doing so, it is expected that the demand for millets will grow exponentially in many countries.

Declaring Millets as Nutri Cereals:

Earlier, the Govern-ment of India celebrated 2018 as the National Year of Millets and declared millets as Nutri-Cereals under the National Food Security Mission (NFSM). To boost millet production, the NFSM-Nutri Cereals is being implemented in 212 districts across 14 states. Under the initiative, assistance is given through State Governments to farmers for interventions such as cluster demonstrations on Package of Practices (PoP), demonstrations on cropping system, distribution of high yielding varieties of seeds, improved farm machineries, efficient water application tools, plant protection measures, nutrient management, processing and post-harvest equipments, cropping system based trainings to the farmers etc. The states are also encouraged to promote cultivation of millets under Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana - Remunerative Approaches for Agriculture & Allied sector Rejuvenation (RKVY-RAFTAAR) with the approval of the state level sanctioning committee constituted under the chairman-ship of the Chief Secretary of the concerned state.

Millets in POSHAN: Meanwhile, the Government of India has urged States and UTs to use millets under the Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman (PM POSHAN) while providing one hot cooked meal in Government and Government-aided schools during 2021-22 to 2025-26.

Promoting StartUps: According to Agriculture Ministry data, currently there are over 500 Startups associated with the millet value chain while the Indian Institute on Millet Research, Hyderabad has incubated 250 Startups under RKVY-RAFTAAR. More than Rs 6.2 crores has been disbursed to over 66 Startups while about 25 Startups have been approved for further funding.

Financing R&D: Finance Minister Smt Nirmala Sitharaman recently announced providing Rs 25 crore fund under the NABARD's rural infrastructure development fund to University of Agricultural Science (UAS), Raichur, Karnataka for establishment of incubation centre for processing and value addition for promotion of millets. "This fund will be used for creating facilities focussed on research, setting up of laboratories and support to farmers by the UAS," Sitharaman had said at Millet Conclave 2022 at Raichur, Karnataka.

Encouraging Innovation: Finance Minister Smt Nirmala Sitharaman recently informed that Niti Aayog will soon announce a 'Millet Challenge' for the start-ups to design and develop innovative solutions for the value chains. She said that by December, three winners of the start-ups will be announced and they will receive Rs 1 crore each. Besides, 15 participants for the 'Millet Challenge' will receive Rs 20 lakh each and another 15 participants will receive Rs 10 lakh each besides the handholding support.

PM Modi on Millets

With India gearing up with a host of activities to bring millets on the global food map, recently Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi urged farmers to adopt these nutritious coarse grains as their preferred choice of crops and get benefit from it. He also highlighted its health benefits and flagged millets' role in fighting malnutrition. On the health benefits of millets, the PM said millets contain plenty of protein fibre and minerals. Along with reducing obesity, they also reduce the risk of diabetes, hypertension and heart related diseases. Millets are also very beneficial in fighting malnutrition, since they are packed with energy as well as protein. "India is the largest producer of millets in the world. Hence the responsibility of making this initiative a success also rests on the shoulders of us Indians," PM Shri  Narendra Modi said during his radio broadcast, 'Mann Ki Baat.'

Urging the farmers to opt for its cultivation, the Prime Minister sought to explain how beneficial millets are for them, especially the small farmers, saying millet crops not only get ready in a very short time but also require less water. Besides, millet hay is also considered the best fodder, he stated.

Global Demand for Millets

According to the Department of Commerce, with the demand for Nutri-Cereals rising steadily globally, millet exports should increase exponentially in the coming years as Indian exporters find new markets abroad. Currently, India is the fifth largest exporter of millets in the world, according to 2020 data, with exports continuously increasing at around 3% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR), in the last five years ending with 2020. In 2020-21, India exported millets worth USD 26.97 million against USD 28.5 million in 2019-20.

The Agricultural and Pro-cessed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), under the Commerce Ministry has been aggressively working towards facilitating shipments of millets by Indian exporters and helping them make in roads into new markets. To give impetus to the export of potential products as well as to remove the bottlenecks in the supply chain of nutriacereals, APEDA has created the Nutri-Cereals Export Promotion Forum which also includes millet exports. It has also organized a sensitization programme for millet start-ups to familiarize them about export opportunities. APEDA has signed an MOU with Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR), for making a strategy for promotion of millets and millet value added products.

Given that millets are highly adaptive to a wide range of climatic conditions and are less water intensive, farmers have been gradually adopting millet cultivation which can provide sustainable income in the long run. The transformative role of millets in tackling lifestyle diseases, the benefits of mainstreaming millets in public-funded programs and the growing realization of huge potential for export markets, and projecting these crops as immunity boosters owing to their rich nutritional profile, has given the much needed push to the millet value chain.

(The author is a Senior Delhibased journalist specializing in food and agriculture-based issues. He can be reached at writerfoodsd@gmail.com)

Views expressed are personal.