International Year of Millets (IYM)

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    • The United Nations has declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets (IYM).

    Key Points

    • India’s vision:
      • It was an Indian Initiative.
      • It is to make IYM 2023 a ‘People’s Movement’ alongside positioning India as the ‘Global Hub for Millets’.
    • Traditional Crop:
      • Being grown in more than 130 countries at present, Millets are considered traditional food for more than half a billion people across Asia and Africa. 
    • India and millets: 
      • ‘Millets’ were among the first crops to be domesticated in India with several evidence of its consumption during the Indus valley civilization
      • In India, millets are primarily a kharif crop, requiring less water and agricultural inputs than other similar staples. 
      • Millets are important by virtue of its mammoth potential to generate livelihoods, increase farmers’ income and ensure food & nutritional security all over the world.
      • Recognising the enormous potential of Millets, which also aligns with several UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Government of India (GoI) has prioritized Millets. 
      • In April 2018, Millets were rebranded as “Nutri Cereals”, followed by the year 2018 being declared as the National Year of Millets, aiming at larger promotion and demand generation. 
      • The global millets market is projected to register a CAGR of 4.5% during the forecast period between 2021-2026.
    • Production in India: 
      • India accounts for a fifth of the world’s millets production.
      • Between 2003-04 and 2021-22, India’s millet output has actually fallen from 21.32 million tonnes (mt) to 15.92 mt. 
      • Almost 98% of it is just three cereals — bajra (down from 12.11 mt to 9.62 mt), jowar (6.68 mt to 4.23 mt) and ragi (1.97 mt to 1.70 mt) — with small millets accounting for the rest (0.56 mt to 0.37 mt).

     

    Image Courtesy: IE  

    • New invention: 
      • The Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) has bred Pusa-1201, a hybrid bajra.
      • It gives an average grain yield of over 2.8 tonnes and potential of 4.5 tonnes per hectare. 
      • It matures in 78-80 days and is resistant to downy mildew and blast, both deadly fungal diseases. 
      • The grains have 13-14% protein, 55 mg/ kg iron (normal level is 50 mg/ kg) and 48 mg/ kg zinc (normal: 35 mg/ kg). 

    Significance of Millets

    • Minerals, vitamins and dietary fibre: 
      • Millets score over rice and wheat in these contents, as well as in amino acid profile. 
    • Healthier option: 
      • Bajra (pearl millet) has iron, zinc, and protein levels comparable to that of wheat, but it’s gluten-free (unlike wheat, which induces gastrointestinal and autoimmune disorders in many people) and has more fibre. 
      • The rotis from bajra makes one feel fuller for longer, as they take more time to digest and do not raise blood sugar levels too fast.
    • Can address nutritional hunger issue: 
      • These nutritionally superior traits can easily address the problem of “hidden hunger” arising from the consumption of energy-dense but micronutrients-deficient foods.
    • Good in fighting climate induced negative effects: 
      • Millets are hardy and drought-resistant crops. 
      • It so happens because of their short duration (70-100 days, against 115-150 days for rice and wheat), lower water requirement (350-500 mm versus 600-1,250 mm) and ability to grow even on poor soils and in hilly terrain.

    Issues

    • Selling price was low but now decreasing: 
      • For the poor, both in urban and rural areas, rice and wheat were once aspirational foods. 
      • But due to the Green Revolution and the National Food Security Act of 2013, two-thirds of India’s population receives up to 5 kg of wheat or rice per person per month at Rs 2 and Rs 3/kg respectively. 
      • The Modi government has, in fact, made the issue of the two fine cereals free of cost from January 2023. This move further tilted the scales against millets.
    • Work required to make it ready for eating: 
      • Even for the better-off, rolling rotis is easier with wheat than millet flour. 
      • This is because the gluten proteins, for all their drawbacks, make the wheat dough more cohesive and elastic. 
      • The resultant breads come out light and fluffy, which isn’t the case with bajra or jowar.
    • Low per hectare yields: 
      • For farmers, the national average is roughly 1 tonne for jowar, 1.5 tonnes for bajra and 1.7 tonnes for ragi, as against 3.5 tonnes for wheat and 4 tonnes for paddy — are a disincentive. 
      • With access to assured irrigation, they would tend to switch to rice, wheat, sugarcane, or cotton.
    • Absence of Government support:
      • The absence of government procurement at minimum support price (MSP), unlike in paddy and wheat, make farmers hesitant to grow even this high-yielding and naturally bio-fortified bajra (Pusa-1201), suitable for both post-monsoon kharif (June-July sowing time) and summer (after harvesting of potato or mustard in February-March and with 1-2 irrigations) cultivation.
    • Orphan crops: 
      • The millets have been reduced to “orphan crops” over the years, planted largely in marginal areas prone to moisture stress. 

    Suggestions

    • Promoting Use of millets: 
      • The nutritional traits, similar to bajra, are present in other millets too: jowar (sorghum), ragi (finger millet), kodo (kodo millet), kutki (little millet), kakun (foxtail millet), sanwa (barnyard millet), cheena (proso millet), kuttu (buckwheat) and chaulai (amaranth). Their use should also be increased.
      • Besides midday meals, millets could be served in the form of ready-to-eat foods such as cookies, laddu, murukku, nutrition bars, and extruded snacks (think healthier versions of Maggi, Kurkure, or Cheetos).
    • Huge market base for millets: 
      • India, according to the latest official data for 2021-22, has 26.52 crore children enrolled in 14.89 lakh schools from the pre-primary to higher secondary levels. 
      • In addition, 7.71 crore children and 1.80 crore pregnant & lactating women are being provided supplementary nutrition in 13.91 lakh anganwadi care centres.
      • Given the dire need to alleviate micronutrient malnutrition — especially iron and zinc deficiency that are major causes of anaemia and stunting respectively, while also contributing to impaired cognitive performance and vulnerability to diarrhoea — millets could be made a staple part of children’s diets.
    • One bajra meal each day in Government Schemes:
      • Every schoolchild and anganwadi beneficiary can be served one daily hot meal based on locally-sourced bajra, jowar, ragi, kodo, or kutki, along with a 150-ml glass of milk and one egg. 
      • It will help combat hidden hunger, besides giving a boost to crop diversification by creating demand for millions of small millet, dairy and poultry farmers.
      • The Centre has two existing schemes — Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman and Saksham Anganwadi & Poshan 2.0 — with a combined budget of Rs 30,496.82 crore in 2022-23. These can be better leveraged by making them more millets-focused.
    • Centre Funding & What States are doing: 
      • The Centre could fund any state willing to procure millets specific to their region exclusively for distribution through schools and anganwadis. 
      • Odisha already has a dedicated millet mission that undertook procurement of 32,302 tonnes worth Rs 109.08 crore, mainly of ragi, in 2021-22. 
      • Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana might want to do the same in bajra, just as Maharashtra may for jowar, Karnataka for ragi and Madhya Pradesh for kodo/ kutki. 
      • They can, of course, add milk and eggs. Some are already doing it: Karnataka and Gujarat in milk and Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha for eggs.
    • Combined funding: 
      • A combination of central funding with decentralised procurement linked to nutrition goals — specifically the eradication of hidden hunger among school-age children — can do for millets what the Food Corporation of India achieved with rice and wheat.

    Source: IE