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. 2023 will be the international year of Millet. Millets are termed as the ‘miracle grains’ or ‘crops of the future’ as they can not only grow under harsh circumstances but are drought-resistant crops that require fewer external inputs. Millets contribute to mitigating climate change as it helps reduce the atmospheric carbon pressure CO2. On the contrary, Wheat being a thermally sensitive crop and Paddy is a major contributor to climate change through methane emission.
Importance of millets cultivation from a farm diversification perspective:
- Millets probably provides the best option to the farmers for achieving the triple objectives of farming i.e profitability, adaptability and sustainability. The millets based farming systems have the following advantages;
- Millets are highly tolerant to increased temperatures, droughts and floods. Millets can be cultivated well in dry zones/rain-fed areas under marginal conditions of soil fertility and moisture. These are grown in the sand dunes of Rajasthan.
- Water requirement is very less as compared to other crops due to an efficient root system. For example, pearl and finger millet can make do with 28% of paddy’s rainfall needs. Figure 1 illustrates a comparative picture on water requirement by various cereal;
- The short rotation (65 days) characteristic of the millets is of vital importance to meet the food demand, especially in the highly populated regions.
- Storage life is comparatively high (two years or beyond).
- Millets farming requires a small investment.
- Inputs added are mostly organic.
- Millets produce more tillers or branches than other crops.
- They provide both food and fodder.
Nutritional and food security benefits:
- Millets are rich source of nutrients. A regular consumption can help to overcome malnutrition among majority of our Indian population. Research has established the following nutritional contributions of millets;
- Millets are richer in calcium, iron, beta-carotene etc. than rice and wheat.
- Millets are rich in dietary fibre, which is negligible in rice. Jowar has 8 times more fibre, ragi has 40 times more calcium and bajra has 8 times more iron and 5 times more both riboflavin and folic acid than rice.9
- Millets help check diabetes, improves digestive system, reduces cancer risk and strengthen the immune system.
- With no gluten and low glycaemic index, millet diet is ideal for those with celiac diseases and diabetes.
- Millets contain high amounts of lecithin are useful for strengthening the nervous system.
- Millets are comparatively richer in minerals and fibres.
- As millets farming has been traditionally fitted within the multi cropping farming approach, it needs to be ensured that millets do not follow the monoculture route under the government extension programmes.
- Government should make provisions for incentives to encourage millets cultivation.
- Greater thrust must be given to value addition of the millets to increase demand among the urban consumers.
- Government and CSOs should work together to generate awareness about the benefits conferred by millets and their role in nutrition and carbon sequestration needs.
- Farm mechanisation should be equally prioritized to remove the drudgery associated with its traditional processing of millets.
- The value of millets is evident in their relevance to the sustainable development goals (SDGs) of food security, nutrition and poverty eradication.
- Brimming with potential, millets can act as a vital cog in the country’s sustainable development wheel if backed by policies that promote their production, incentivize farmers and strengthen market linkages.