Daily Current Affairs Environment and Biodiversity

Millets Cultivation in India and its benefits 

Millets Cultivation in India: The United Nations has declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets.

  • India, Nigeria and China are the largest producers of millets in the world, accounting for more than 55% of the global production.
  • In India, pearl millet (bajra) is the fourth-most widely cultivated food crop after rice, wheat and maize.

Analysis

  • Millets are a group of highly variable small seeded grasses, widely grown around the world as cereal crops or grains for fodder and human food.
  • Millets are a group of small grained, warm-weather cereal food crops which are highly tolerant to drought and other extreme weather conditions and are grown with low chemical inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Most of the millet crops are native of India and are popularly known as Nutri-cereals as they provide most of the nutrients required for normal functioning of human body.
  • Millets are classified into Major Millets and Minor Millets based on their grain size.
  • Pseudo millets are so called because they are not part of the Poaceae botanical family, to which ‘true’ grains belong, however they are nutritionally similar and used in similar ways to ‘true’ grains.
  • Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare has recognised the importance of Millets and declared Millets comprising of Sorghum (Jowar), Pearl Millet (Bajra), Finger Millet (Cheena), Kodo Millet (Kodo), Barnyard Millet (Sawa), Little Millet (Kutki), Brown top millet and two pseudo millets i.e., Buck-wheat (Kuttu) and Amaranth (Chaulai) as “Nutri-Cereals” for production, consumption and trade point of view.
  • Millets are gluten free, non-allergenic and non-acid forming foods.
  • Millet consumption decreases triglycerides and C-reactive protein, thereby cardiovascular disease.
  • Millets are low in Glycemic Index as such don’t cause huge spike in blood sugar and thus help to prevent type 2 diabetes mellitus.
  • Anti-nutrients are also found in millets like phytic acid, polyphenol, Cyanogenic glucoside, tannins, oxalates, amylase inhibitor. These anti-nutrients reduce the bioavailability of nutrients in the body.
  • Millets act as a prebiotic feeding for micro-flora in our inner ecosystem.
  • Most of the millets can be grown on low fertility soils and many of them are also grown to reclaim soils.
  • They do not demand chemical fertilizers and are pest free crops.
  • In fact, under dry land conditions, millets grow better in the absence of chemical fertilizers. Therefore, most millet farmers grow them using farmyard manure under purely eco-friendly conditions.
  • All millets are rich in dietary fibre. Dietary fibre has water absorbing and bulking property. It increases transit time of food in the gut which helps in reducing risk of inflammatory bowel disease and acts as detoxifying agent in the body.
  • Millets are important crops in the semi-arid tropics of Asia and Africa (especially in India and Nigeria), with 97% of millet production in developing countries.
  • The crop is favoured due to its productivity and short growing season under dry, high-temperature conditions.
  • The most widely grown millet is pearl millet.
  • Millets contain much higher amounts of fibre and essential minerals than wheat, rice and other cereal grains.
  • Millets are also more climate-resilient than other cereals.
  • Sorghum (Jowar) is the fourth most important food-grain in India after rice, wheat, and maize in terms of area and production.
  • The three major millet crops currently growing in India are jowar (sorghum), bajra (pearl millet) and ragi (finger millet).
  • Major producers include Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Haryana.
  • High in dietary fibre, nutri-cereals are a powerhouse of nutrients and
  • They are not only important for the healthy growth and development of children but have also been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes in adults.
  • Usually grown by small and poor farmers on dry, low-fertile, mountainous, tribal and rain-fed areas, millets are good for the soil, have shorter cultivation cycles and require less cost-intensive cultivation.
  • These unique features make millets suited for and resilient to India’s varied agro-climatic conditions.
  • Moreover, unlike rice and wheat, millets are not water or input-intensive, making them a sustainable strategy for addressing climate change and building resilient agri-food systems.
  • The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Council, in its 160th session in Rome in 2018, approved India’s proposal to observe an International Year of Millets in 2023.
  • India also celebrated 2018 as the National Year of Millets for promoting cultivation and consumption of these nutri-cereals.
  • In addition, the FAO Council also approved India’s membership to the Executive Board of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) for 2020 and 2021.
  • In the 1960s before the Green Revolution, millets were extensively grown and consumed in India.
  • Indian Council of Agricultural Research data shows that bajra constituted nearly 46 per cent of the crop production as opposed to 13 per cent for rice in the kharif season. Similarly, chickpea stood at 42 per cent for the rabi season against a measly 4.3 per cent for wheat.
  • With the Green Revolution, the focus, rightly so, was on food security and high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice.
  • An unintended consequence of this policy was the gradual decline in the production of millets.
  • Unfortunately, millets were increasingly seen as “poor person’s food” in contrast to the consumer perception around more refined grains like rice and wheat.
  • The cost incentives provided via MSPs also favoured a handful of staple grains.
  • In parallel, India saw a jump in consumer demand for ultra-processed and ready-to-eat products, which are high in sodium, sugar, trans-fats and even some carcinogens. This need was again met by highly-refined grains.
  • Contrary to the popular belief, this phenomenon was not restricted to urban areas. With the intense marketing of processed foods, even the rural population started perceiving mill-processed rice and wheat as more aspirational.
  • This has lead us to the double burden of mothers and children suffering from micronutrient deficiencies and the astounding prevalence of diabetes and obesity.
  • To address this situation, a multi-pronged strategy has been adopted for the promotion of nutri-cereals by the government.
  • The first strategy from a consumption and trade point of view was to re-brand coarse cereals/millets as nutri-cereals.
  • The move is aimed at removing a lingering perception that these grains are inferior to rice and wheat, even as their health benefits are larger.
  • Secondly, Jowar, bajra, and ragi are also covered under the ‘minimum support prices’ scheme of the government.
  • Third, to provide a steady market for the produce, the government included millets in the public distribution system.
  • Fourth, the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare is running a Rs 600-crore scheme to increase the area, production and yield of nutri-cereals.
  • And finally, the Ministry of Women and Child Development has been working at the intersection of agriculture and nutrition by setting up nutri-gardens, promoting research on the interlinkages between crop diversity and dietary diversity and running a behaviour change campaign to generate consumer demand for nutri-cereals.
  • Mains Q: As the government sets to achieve its agenda of a malnutrition-free India and doubling of farmers’ incomes, the promotion of the production and consumption of nutri-cereals seems to be a policy shift in the right direction.

 

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