NITI Aayog and the World Food Programme (WFP), India, has launched the ‘Mapping and Exchange of Good Practices’ initiative for mainstreaming millets in Asia and Africa.
NITI and WFP will prepare a compendium of good practices for scaling up the production and consumption of millets in India and abroad.
What are millets?
- Millets are one of the oldest foods, these are the small-seeded hardy crops which can grow well in dry zones or rain-fed areas under marginal conditions of soil fertility and moisture. Millets are cultivated in low-fertile land, tribal and rain-fed and mountainous areas.
- Millets can not only grow in poor climatic or soil conditions and provide nutritious grain as well as fodder, but these can also very well fit into multiple cropping systems under irrigation as well as dryland farming due to their short growing season.
- The prolonged and easy storability of millets under ordinary conditions has given them the status of Famine Reserves and this feature is of great importance for India, as the agriculture of our country suffers from unexpected changes in monsoon.
Millets in India –
- The major millets grown in India are Pearl Millet (Bajra), Sorghum (Jowar), Finger Millet (Ragi), Foxtail Millet (Kangni), Proso (Cheena), Barnyard Millet (Sawan), Little Millet (Kutki), and Kodo Millet. All these are rich in fibre, minerals, and Vitamins. Pearl Millet, for instance, has the highest content of macro as well as micronutrients such as iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, folic acid, and riboflavin.
- Many of these are missing in rice or wheat. Scientific studies link millets intake to blood sugar control, reduced inflammation, improved digestion, and lower risk of heart diseases and cancer.
- Major producers include Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Haryana.
Significance of millets –
- While stark hunger, as reflected in starvation deaths, has more or less been banished from the world, malnutrition (read undernourishment or disguised hunger) is still rampant. Nearly two billion people are reckoned to suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, resulting in stunted physical and mental growth in children.
- Worse still, about 45 per cent of the deaths of children under five are attributed to deficient or imbalanced nutrition. Ending malnutrition and promoting sustainable farming have, therefore, rightfully, been included in the 17 Social Development Goals, adopted at the Earth Summit in 2015.
- Millets hold the key to achieve this objective because they offer both health gains and sustainability of production under changing climate. Globally, most millet crops have gone out of cultivation. The few surviving ones include Pearl Millet, Barley, sorghum, Quinoa, Amaranth, Bulgur (Cracked wheat), Rye, Kamut (Khorasen wheat), and Freekeh (green durum wheat).
Ecological benefits –
- Interestingly, there are some cogent ecological reasons as well for promoting millet cultivation. These crops are the most efficient converters of solar energy into food and biomass.
- In terms of photosynthetic efficiency, they belong to the top C4 category, against C3 of wheat and rice.
- More importantly, millet crops sequester carbon from the atmosphere while paddy fields spew methane, a greenhouse gas.
- Besides, these are hardy, drought-tolerant, and heat-resistant crops that generally do not succumb to pests and diseases and are suited for cultivation without assured irrigation.