Millets – part III

This is the final part of a series of articles on millets. This part describes the issues with the current use of millets and possible solutions to these issues (previous parts described the benefits of millets from the perspective of producers and consumers).

by Dr. Saigopal Sathyamurthy & Dr. Abhijeeth Chandrasekaran

Issues in current use of millets

Shrinking cultivated area and shrinking production

Millet production and the area under millet cultivation have both been decreasing over the last five decades. A large part of this shrinkage can be attributed to the Green Revolution (see Table 1). A significant part of the area under millet cultivation appear to have shifted to cultivation of rice and wheat. Therefore, despite improved farming practices (and consequent increased production / Ha), millet production has marginally decreased (MINI).

Table 1    Area under cultivation and total production – millets and cereal crops

Crop 1966-71 1986-91 2001-06

Percent change

(1966-71 to 2001-06)

Area under cultivation (in million Ha)

All millets 37.89 30.88 21.31 -43.8
Rice 36.79 41.31 42.85 116.4
Wheat 15.73 23.59 26.2 166.6

Production (in million tonnes)

All millets 18.41 20.78 17.97 -2.4
Rice 38.09 67.15 85.72 125
Wheat 18.1 49.92 69.73 285

Minimal state support

One of the major reasons for increased cereal cultivation is strong institutional and state support. Conversely, there is negligible to minimal state support in terms of crop loans and crop insurance for farmers cultivating millets. This is one of the key factors that has led to a decline of millet cultivation in Indian agriculture.

Possible solutions

The foregoing articles in this series have dwelt in detail on the various benefits of millets. Taken together, it is evident that, as compared to traditional cereal crops like rice and wheat, millets can provide multiple securities. They include securities of food, nutrition, fodder, fibre, health, livelihood and ecology.
However, despite these benefits, huge issues remain with promoting millet based foods. The sections below summarise possible solutions for addressing these issues and potentially form the starting point for future discussions among different stakeholders

Increase awareness of multiple benefits of millets

One of the first issue to tackle is engendering a shift in perspective vis a vis millets. Awareness of the benefits of millets is woefully lacking. Therefore, we should endeavour to increase awareness of the huge benefits associated with promoting a millet-food based ecosystem targeting all the stakeholders involved in millet production: farmer, policy makers and public. A summary of the focus of awareness dissemination with respect to different stakeholders is provided in Table 2 and described in detail in the text below.

Table 2    Key aspects of increasing awareness with respect to different stakeholders

Benefit / Stakeholder Farmer Policy makers Public
Climate change crop

+

+

+

Biodiversity

+

+

Soil quality maintenance

+

+

Cattle fodder

+

Health benefits

+

+

Climate change crops

Millets have attractive characteristics like requiring minimum irrigation, ability to grow and survive in soils with low fertility and being relatively pest free (described in the first part of this series). This automatically translates to a minimized capital expenditure on irrigation, power, fertilizer and pesticides, both at the level of the individual farmers and the state (MINI).

Promote biodiversity and soil quality

Millet farms are intrinsically biodiverse. Traditional millet farming involves planting multiple crops (e.g. legumes and amaranth) at the same time. Millets ability to grow in soils with low fertility may, in part, lie in these traditional farming methods, since companion crops like legumes are prolific leaf shedders and also help the soil fix nitrogen, thereby maintaining soil fertility (MINI).

Act as animal fodder

An interesting facet of the benefits of millets lies in their ability to act as animal fodder. The edible stalks of millets (post harvesting) are among the most favoured fodder for cattle. This in turn feeds into the typical rural ecosystem where agriculture and animal husbandry go hand-in-hand (MINI).

Health benefits

The last (and most important) step in awareness is educating the general public. No initiative will succeed unless the public is made aware of the health benefits of millets, and there is a widespread demand for millets. A demand-driven increase in the most sustainable way for promoting millets.

Setup appropriate institutional mechanisms and grant incentives

Once awareness has been created, key subsequent steps involve setting up of appropriate institutional mechanisms and granting of (monetary / non-monetary) incentives. These mechanisms need to be tailored according to loco-regional requirements.

Farmers

Incentives should be given to farmers who choose to grow millets. These incentives may take the form of climate change bonus, biodiversity bonus, water conservation bonus etc. (MINI), and could be both monetary and non-monetary.
To demonstrate the utility of growing millets, farmers could also be encouraged to get their soil tested. Existing central government schemes such as soil health card (http://soilhealth.dac.gov.in/) provide a ready made framework for soil testing. Subsequently, farmers could be provided soil health card bonuses for growing millets.

Policy makers

Millets should be included in the Public Distribution System (PDS). Furthermore, as and when feasible, millets should be provided at subsidized rates. Details on the specific millets to be included in the PDS may vary depending on the loco-regional practices and requirements.
Similarly, millet-based food can be included as part of the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and mid-day meal programme. Not only will this will lead to potentially significant improvements in the nutrition status of young children, it will also encourage consumption of millets at an early age.

Public

Health care professionals (HCPs) are the first point-of-call for any health problem. Therefore, HCPs and nutritionists should be targeted for dissemination of information and education about millet-based foods. A sustained campaign may be effected by using the existing health services setup of various state governments. This campaign should extend across the various health care systems – primary, secondary and tertiary health care systems.

All in all, a multi-pronged approach is required to promote a millet-food based ecosystem. Once implemented, even to a limited degree, it should go a long way in addressing multiple national ‘securities’ at one stroke – security of food, nutrition, fodder, fibre, health, livelihood and ecology.

 

Dr Saigopal S is a physician and public health expert. Dr Abhijeeth C is a pathologist. They are currently involved in pharmaceutical consulting. Some parts of the article (related to agri/horticultural practices) are not the authors’ domain expertise – nonetheless, they represent informed opinions based on robust literature evidence.

Corresponding author: Dr. Saigopal Sathyamurthy; email: saigopal2784@gmail.com

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the authors in their private capacity

References

 

 

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