Millets were perhaps one of the first plants to be domesticated for food with the earliest evidence being found in IVC. Millets are grown in about 131 countries and are the traditional food for around 60 crore people in Asia and Africa. India is poised to become a global hub for millets with a production of more than 170 lakh tonne which makes for more than 80% of the millets produced in Asia.
They are commonly understood as smart foods and super food and have been an important food source in the past. But the need of the hour is to make them a food choice for the future.
LINKAGE POINT: This is because of the following reasons:
- 1. The sustainable cultivation of millets can support climate-resilient agriculture because they can grow on arid lands with minimal inputs and maintenance, are tolerant or resistant to diseases and pests and are more resilient to climate shocks than other cereals.
- 2. The sustainable production of millets can fight hunger and contribute to food security and nutrition. In arid areas, millets are very often the only crops that can be harvested in the dry season and are a crucial part of the household food basket. They can help to overcome food scarcity in difficult periods, therefore contributing to the food security and nutrition of vulnerable populations.
- 3. They reduce further soil degradation and help support biodiversity and sustainable land restoration.
- 4. Millets can be an important part of a healthy diet as they are good sources of minerals, dietary fibre, antioxidants and protein. With a low glycaemic index, they are a good option for people with high blood sugar. They are also gluten free and an excellent and cost-effective source of iron for iron-deficient diets.
- 5. The production of millets and the demand for them has declined as other cereals such as wheat, maize or rice became a dietary preference. By promoting millets and regaining market opportunities, additional sources of revenue can be created for smallholder farmers and in the food sector, boosting economic growth.
- 6. Greater trade in millets can improve the diversity of the global food system. They currently account for less than 3% of the global grains trade. With the need to improve resilience of global trade and its ability to respond to sudden changes in the food grain market, millets are a valuable option to increase output diversity and mitigate risks related to production shocks.
- 7. They have low carbon and water footprint (rice plants need at least 3 times more water to grow in comparison to millets).
- 8. They can help tackle lifestyle problems and health challenges such as obesity and diabetes as they are gluten-free and have a low glycemic index (a relative ranking of carbohydrate in foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels). They offer a way of healthy eating, especially for the urban population.
Hence, it can be rightly said that millets have the potential to bring a revolution in agriculture and food security.
The International Year of Millets 2023 stands to provide a unique opportunity to increase global production, ensure efficient processing and consumption, promote better utilization of crop rotations, and encourage better connectivity throughout food systems to promote millets as a key component of food baskets.