The simple grain with multiple health benefits has travelled a long way while finding a place in Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Mann ki Baat’.
Sushila Watti, a board member of Narmada farmer producer company (FPC) Mandla, Madhya Pradesh, is pleased that their FPC is set to establish its first millet processing plant apart from running an awareness campaign in their region about cultivating the millet or Kodokutki, as locally known there. Janki Maravi, who is the president and founding member of Halchalit Mahila Kisan Women producer company in Samnapur in the Dindori district of MP flaunts 1,200 shareholders of their all-women producer company and highlights sales of 75 tonnes of millet in 2022. Indeed, the simple grain with multifaceted health benefits has travelled a long way from taking a backseat in India’s post Green Revolution era to being introduced as millets flour in the rations of soldiers to reaching the SCO Millets Food Festival and finding place in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Mann ki Baat”. “People are now making millets an important ingredient of their food and major impact of this change is now visible. On one hand, this has made those small farmers happier who used to traditionally grow millets in their fields, on the other hand, farmer producer organisations and entrepreneurs have now speeded up efforts to bring millets to market and make them available for the common people,” Modi said during his address on the 97th edition of Mann ki Baat in January this year.
Of course the nutri-cereal–as millet was renamed in 2018–in forms ranging from jowar, bajra, ragi and foxtail millet etc, has been an intrinsic part of the traditional Indian diet, but these are now regaining their lost glory in India with a push from Modi and globally from the attention drawn by 2023 being designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Millets. “I think the International Year of the Millets (Shree Anna) 2023 campaign is a great step towards making a sustainable Indian product as a lifestyle product on a global platform,” says Manoj Juneja, Deputy Executive Director of World Food Programme (WFP). The government also believes in India’s emerging potential to lead the world as a key player in the global supply chain of millet and its value-added products across “ready to eat, ready to cook, ready to serve products and easy meal solutions. Encouraged by measures to boost millets’ cultivation and consumption, India’s export of millets reached $64 million in the year 2021-22, an increase of 12.5% year-on-year. The major millet importing countries were USA, Australia, Japan, Belgium etc in 2011-12 which gave way to Nepal with millet import of USD 6.09 million, UAE with USD 4.84 million and Saudi Arabia with USD 3.84 million in 2021-22. India is exporting millets to 139 countries across the globe. Another reason for a concentrated campaign for millet at the official and industry level is the challenge of sustainable and green growth. As highlighted during the CII National Conference on Millets in March 2023, recent data shows that 75% of India’s districts are climate hotspots and 27 out of 35 states and UTs are extremely vulnerable to climate change which poses a challenge to food security with its impact on food production and costs. “Millets are resilient and climate friendly, use 70% less water than rice, grow in half the time as wheat and use 40 per cent less energy to process than wheat,” says Sanjiv Puri, Vice President, CII and Chairman of its advisory council for sustainable development. The Centre has its action cut out with an eye on making India the global hub for millet. India’s G20 presidency is seen as an opportune moment to be the voice of the Global South in the face of critical global food challenges caused by geopolitical issues. The G20 has adopted a three-pronged strategy in which millets will be included in all meals at over 200 extensive meetings with various ministries and secretariats, millet cuisine stalls will be set up at each meeting and millets will be included in gift hampers for international delegates. To stimulate exports of millets from India and provide market linkage to the producers, the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) is working to expand the global basket with millets and its value-added products to achieve USD 100 million target by 2025. The Global Millets Conference in March 2023 organised by APEDA brought together around 100 millet exhibitors from different parts of India and around 100 international buyers from 30 potential millet importing countries to the national capital to allow them to explore direct marketing and export opportunities for millets and its value-added products.
This is expected to generate a significant impact on the millet industry, further promoting its growth and development in the global market. Besides, APEDA in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Millets Research and respective state agricultural universities has incubated more than 200 start-ups to develop a range of millet based value-added products.
An interesting development in the unfolding of the millet story is new opportunities for women empowerment to take forward the millet success story. With the government propagating millets cultivation and increasing demand for the cereal, more women are expected to get engaged in the cultivation of millets, thereby leading to a need for skilling and capacity building. This aligns with the Government’s scheme for formation and promotion of 10,000 farmer producer organizations to help enhance economic strength and market linkages of farmers. As part of this plan, Vijaya Lakshmi Nadendla, Joint Secretary in Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, informs that the Centre is “exclusively promoting 100 per cent women FPOs and has issued a guideline for the inclusion of one woman in the board of directors of each FPO”.
Much still remains to be done to reap a richer millet harvest. The Government is aware of the need to carry out R&D in all areas of the value chain of millets, bring together the knowledge of production, processing, storage and make it available to the consumer. “Improved varieties, better shelf life, efficient processing and access to markets, all are vital to strengthen the millet value chain,” says Nadendla. While Sanjiv Puri sees a role for private businesses in increasing consumer demand and awareness, the supply chain issues could get resolved with conferences like “World Food India 2023, in November which the Ministry of Food Processing is organizing. The focus is on millet, global investors of food companies and machinery, packaging technology and material which could bring solutions to some of the bottlenecks. Anita Praveen, Secretary, MoFPI is optimistic about the immense investment opportunities in post-harvest management such as primary processing and storage, preservation infrastructure, cold chain, refrigerated transport and value addition in organic and nutritious foods.
On the home front, NAFED has started extending marketing linkage to millets-centric startups, setting up a millet corner in NAFED bazaar retail stores, installation of millet vending machines across Delhi-NCR.