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Millet Revolution: From poor man’s Food to Food of the Future

Millet Farming
Millet Revolution

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1. Why Millets?

Millets are one of the oldest crops to be domesticated and cultivated, they are believed to have originated in Asia and Africa. In the Indian context, millets have historically played a significant role in its agricultural history making India one of the largest millet economies of the world. As per FAO estimates for 2021, India produced 173 lakh tonnes of millets, thereby making India the top 5 millet exporters in the world.

India produces 80% of Asia’s millet and 20% of global millet. The production has been increasing by around 3% CAGR, however, the cropland under prominent millets like, jowar, bajra, etc. has halved post the Green Revolution from 40% to around 20%. The graph below shows the declining area under millet production subsequently year on year.

Millet yield shows a similar downward trend. However, slowly enough millets are being recognized and valued. The Government of India celebrated 2018 as the ‘National Year of Millets’. Later India’s proposal of celebrating 2023 as the ‘International Year of Millets’ by accepted by UNGA. Millets have transitioned from being labeled as a 'poor man's crop' to an overlooked 'orphan crop', and are now recognized as a ‘food for the future’. Therefore it assumes significance to understand the millet space in detail.

This white paper explores the significance of millets, focusing on their current status as Nutri-cereals and initiatives to boost production. It further examines the reasons behind the declining cultivation of millets. By analyzing challenges and opportunities, this paper aims to unlock the potential of millets and propose solutions for promoting their enhanced production.

2. Significance of Millets:

2.1 Consumer Perspective

Millets are a high source of protein and are considered a super-food, millet helps address various lifestyle and health-related concerns.

2.2 Farmer

Millets provide a sustainable source of income to farmers and insurance against climate vagaries. Millet production is cost-effective, reducing the need for pesticides and fertilizers. Millets also allow farmers to grow multiple crops due to their short growing seasons of 12-14 weeks as opposed to 20-24 weeks for rice and wheat.

2.3 Environmental Benefits

Millets are a hardy crop, requiring lesser resources such as water, besides having a lower carbon footprint due to lower chemical inputs requirement.

2.4 Food security

Millets are hardy, resilient crops with high tolerance to extreme weather conditions. They are highly adaptable to climatic variations such as hot weather up to 50 Degrees Celsius.

Despite the significant multiple benefits that millets have, there has been a decline in millet production and consumption. According to the Directorate of Economics & Statistics’ data from 2008-09 onwards, shows that the production of rice and wheat has risen by 30% and 34% respectively. However, in the same period, the millet production has been stagnant.

Millet production between 2019-20 to 2021-22 hinged around 170 lakh tonnes. Between 2008-09 and 2022-23, the average annual production has been 167 lakh tonnes. 2010-11 was a significantly better year for millets, as the production peaked at over 200 lakh tonnes but declined to 137.1 tonnes in 2018-19. In terms of consumption too, per capita millet consumption fell from 32.9 kg to 4.2 kg from the 1960s to 2010.

3. A closer look at the state-level trends

3.1 Rajasthan

The leading producer from 2019 onwards, producing 49 lakh tonnes. Maharashtra and Karnataka follow suit with 24 lakh tonnes each. Uttar Pradesh emerged the distinct fourth with 22.3 lakh tonnes. These four states roughly account for 70% of the total millet production in India.

3.2 Haryana, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh

Together with Rajasthan, Maharashtra, and Karnataka, these states produced 89% of the millet that the country produced.

Millet missions in states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan have proved to be highly beneficial in enhancing millet production and consumption. The missions focus on capacity building for farmers, provisions of financial incentives, access to quality seeds, infrastructure, and training programs. The climatic conditions and geographic topography besides favorable agro-climatic conditions facilitate millet cultivation.

Further, states like Karnataka, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra have established agricultural research institutions and centers to enhance millet production and support farmers through research, development, and introduction of high-yielding and climate-resilient varieties. Traditional agricultural practices have also been seen to benefit these states particularly.

The projected demand for millet across domains also paints a positive picture of the increasing demand for millet for various purposes. However, the systemic structural challenges need to be resolved before India can aim to become a global leader in the millet economy.

Figure: The year-on-year demand for millet and the expected millet demand.

4. The challenges

4.1 Production related

4.1.1 Lower area under millet production

Newer areas need to be restored and brought under cultivation without affecting the production of other staples the growing demand calls for the expansion of millet production to newer areas.

4.1.2 Seed Quality

There is a need for better millet seeds with greater resistance to pests and diseases. Plant diseases like blast, and stem borer cause significant loss to the crop.

4.1.3 Lower productivity

There is a significant yield gap as high as 156% for small millets in the yield with ample space for improvement and increment in the production of the various millet crops.

4.2 Processing challenge

4.2.1 Inefficient machinery

Lower grain recovery causes significant wastage. In the best-case scenario, the recovery is just around 80%.

4.2.2 Technological challenge in hulling

Different varieties of millet have different requirements for hulling, however, the existing technology does not support that. Only a few varieties of dehuller machines limit the processing of millets.

4.2.3 Separation of seed from husk

Millets are significantly smaller in size as compared to their counterpart staples like rice and wheat, and therefore separation of husk is a major issue often leading to spillage and mixing with the hulled grain.

4.2.4 Creation of value-added food

As millets are highly gluten-free their processing into value-added foods such as bread, etc. is still a challenge.

4.2.5 Informal nature of the processing centers

Increasingly more women are employed in these unorganized processing centers which further leads to other problems. Besides, these centers do not use machines for processing the grains, and hence the manual task takes a lot of time.

4.3 Regulatory challenge

Millet value-added food lacks proper regulation from FSSAI. Millets also face certification issues for export.

4.4 Policy challenge

4.4.1 Greater incentivization of other cereals through Mid Day meals, PDS, etc.

4.4.2 Lack of Funding for Research into technologies and seed development. Significant attention needs to be paid to the development of high-yielding millet varieties.

4.4.3 Less commercialized, due to a lack of standardized process for quality checks and approval.

4.4.4 Lack of targeted efforts, to increase awareness of government programs and schemes. Government programs have not yet penetrated to the deep pockets of the country.

4.4.5 Lack of uniform adoption of millets in PDS, in all the states. Rice and wheat are given greater importance under PDS.

4.4.6 No MSP for minor Millets, the government has introduced the MSP for major millets, but minor millets have been left orphans under MSP.

4.4.7 Procurement delays due to lack of collection centers. The government has procured only 17% of the approved quantity of millets and coarse grains so far.

4.5 Other issues

4.5.1 Lack of industrial demand for value-added millet products.

4.5.2 Low Profitability. 4.5.3 Lack of access to quality seeds.

4.5.4 The green revolution skewed the production ratio in favor of rice and wheat.

4.5.5 Lower shelf life leads to deterioration of quality very quickly.

4.5.6 Lack of traditional knowledge to prepare millet.

4.5.7 Changing customer tastes and preferences

One of the primary factors contributing to the limited consumption of millets is an underdeveloped value chain, characterized by insufficient primary processing at the village level and considerable distances between production and processing units. Many private entrepreneurs lack awareness about government policies and programs resulting in limited marketing of millet.

The decline in millet production is also due to a lack of effective initiatives specifically targeting millet cultivation. Lower profitability associated with millet as compared to rice and wheat has discouraged farmers. Various factors, including a lack of demand stimulation and a decline or stagnation in the cultivation of small millets, have led to the decline of the millet industry.

As shown there are significant returns for the farmers producing millet, but that is not getting reflected in increased production. Multiple challenges lie ahead that need to be addressed.

5. Missions to promote millets

5.1 Haryana

The Bhavantar Bharpayee Yojana supports horticulture farmers by providing compensation for the low market prices of their produce. Recognizing the importance of promoting millet cultivation, the scheme has recently been expanded to include the Bajra crop starting from the Kharif season of 2021.

5.2 Odisha

The convergence of the Odisha Millets Mission and the SHG Mission Shakti has led to the development of innovative recipes and providing training to women Self-Help Groups for promoting millet consumption. This has encouraged the inclusion of millet in diets and promoted consumption.

5.3 Tamil Nadu

Mission on Sustainable Dry Land Agriculture (2016) promotes and enhances dry land farming practices. It aims to improve the production and productivity of millets, pulses, and oilseeds by encompassing activities, including the formation of dry land clusters, comprehensive land development, value addition, strengthening Farmer Producer Organizations, and promoting animal husbandry.

5.4 Madhya Pradesh

Under the Nutri Cereal Scheme, the focus is on promoting millet, particularly Kodo and Little millets in the tribal districts of Mandla and Dindori. These initiatives aim to raise awareness about the nutritional benefits of millets and encourage their cultivation among the local communities.

5.5 Andhra Pradesh

Drought Mitigation Project with IFAD aims at addressing the recurring drought challenge. The project has established 105 Farmer Producer Organizations, which have played a crucial role in promoting the cultivation of minor millets such as foxtail, little, barnyard, kodo, and brown top millets.

5.6 Chhattisgarh

The Mission Millet (2021) aims to boost the cultivation of Kodo millet, little millets, and Finger millet. Chhattisgarh Minor Forest Produce Co-operative Federation is responsible for procuring and processing millets.

Several other initiatives have been put in place by other state governments to enhance the adoption and usage of millet. Millets also come with substantial health benefits which help counteract 21st-century health concerns like undernourishment, insufficient intake of essential micronutrients, and the rising incidence of non-communicable diseases.

According to NFHS 5 India Report 2022, around 59.1% of women suffer from anemia, 35.5% of children are stunted, 32.1% of children are underweight, 24.0% of women and 22.9% of men are obese, and 8.9% of the population is affected by diabetes. To counteract this, the Government is introducing millets through ICDS.

6. Initiatives to promote millet consumption in Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS)

6.1 Haryana & Chhattisgarh

The Ministry of Women and Child Development in Haryana promotes millet consumption through Take Home Ration for the beneficiaries of Anganwadi Centers under ICDS. The Government of Chhattisgarh under Mukhyamantri Suposhan Yojana introduced ragi in Supplementary Nutrition Program. A take-home ration containing ragi, wheat, sugar, etc. is distributed to children and pregnant, and lactating women.

6.2 Odisha & Tamil Nadu

Introduction of Ragi Laddu in Odisha to revive millets to enhance nutritional outcomes. This has also helped in the empowerment of SHG women. Tamil Nadu government introduced local traditional recipes as hot cooked meals under ICDS.

6.3 NITI Aayog

Decentralized inclusion of millets under ICDS in Aspirational Districts, through which the millets were locally sourced from SHGs and FPOs were further supplied to Anganwadis. This initiative was also unique because, in some of the districts, small dehullers were being used by rural women.

Other states are also introducing millets under ICDS. Time and again concerns have been raised about technological backwardness in the millet value chain.

7. Innovations to solve for greater yield and processing

7.1 Development of a standard process for sorghum cultivation to avoid spoilage by ICAR IIMR

In Andhra Pradesh, sorghum was cultivated using the zero-tillage method which boosted sorghum growth. Later ICRISAT and ICAR-IIMR used sorghum for ethanol production resulting in sorghum being considered the established biofuel feedstock in the country.

7.2 Capacity building program

Indian Institute of Food Processing Technology is working on skill development, and technology transfer by building the capacity for micro-entrepreneurs, SHGs, students, farmers, etc. Value-added products have been developed such as millet biscuits, millet ice cream, instant foods, etc.

7.3 Development of bio-fortified varieties to enhance the nutritional outcomes of millet consumption

ICRISAT has been the pioneer in the development of a commercialized biofortified millet variety called Dhanashakti, and sorghum called Parbhani Shakti. Until now 150 biofortified varieties have been released for sorghum and millet itself.

7.4 Community gene bank

The Community Gene Fund Programme aims to preserve the traditional varieties while also empowering women. It promotes and supports the identification, preservation, and storage of traditional seeds.

However, despite several initiatives that are being taken by the respective state government agencies, there are furthermore issues that need to be resolved to make India a global leader in the millet economy and also to help fulfill India’s agenda of enhancing millet production.

8. Addressing the challenges

8.1 Production Related

8.1.1 Supplying better quality certified seeds through Krishi Vikas Kedras to the farmers, regular checking of the soil quality for increasing the yield, and greater concessional incentives to farmers to diversify crops beyond rice and wheat.

8.1.2 Capacity building for farmers and incentivizing the farmers of drought-prone Marathwada and Vidarbha regions to diversify from highly water-intensive cotton to hardy millet.

8.2 Processing Related

8.2.1 Research and Development

For the development of millet-related technology in collaboration with the private sector to expedite the discovery of cost-effective, large-scale processing methods for millet. Government can further make arrangements for sharing of Intellectual Property Rights with private players.

8.2.2 Value Addition

Incentivizing greater participation of private players in the Ready-to-Eat and Ready-to-Consume segment as it allows for flexible responses to consumer demands, facilitates better price discovery for value-added products and also contributes to meeting evolving consumer preferences.

8.2.3 Decentralizing processing through the inclusion of SHGs, women micro-entrepreneurs.

8.3 Regulatory Challenge

Concerted efforts to formulate a policy dealing with all specific aspects from millet production to certification of millet value-added products by FSSAI.

8.4 Enhancing supply chain

Enhancing the capabilities of women-led SHGs through enhanced packaging techniques, agro-marketing support, financial literacy, and additional entrepreneurial skills. Inclusion of ASHA workers and the Anganwadi workers to be the millet ambassadors.

8.5 Value addition and demand creation

Campaigns to support local millet varieties while also catering to increasing demands for non-native varieties like Quinoa. For enhancing marketability to procure high-quality millets it is crucial to establish connections between small and marginal millet farmers and online marketing platforms like e-NAM. Focus on building capabilities of Farmer Produce Organization to enhance the bargaining power of millet producers in both domestic and global markets.

8.6 Policy Interventions for the Government

8.6.1 Prioritization of millets by Government

Telangana Government has devised a plan to introduce Ragi java for breakfast and incorporate millet into the lunch menu for students in government schools.

8.6.2 Advertising campaign

A campaign through a collaborative effort from both public and private stakeholders, holds immense potential in advocating for grain diversity and accentuating the nutritional advantages, taste, versatility, and affordability of millet.

Government plays a vital role in strengthening the value chain and is actively providing policy support to farmers. Most states have announced MSP for millet besides the inclusion of millet in the PDS. Different ministries are offering financial infrastructure, and technological support.

Ministry of Agriculture supports SHGs, and FPOs through village-level food processing schemes. MSME Ministry supports secondary processing for incentivizing the production of ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook millet products.

However, efforts are also needed for greater collaboration between ministries for enhanced outcomes. It is important to provide microfinance, NRLM funds, and comprehensive training to women involved in millet processing, empowering them economically and fostering the creation of more women-run SHGs and cooperatives at the village level. Similarly, intervention needs to be done by FSSAI to standardize the entire food processing space.

Meet The Thought Leader

Vamsi is a mentor at GGI, and has a diverse background that includes being a former McKinsey employee and a graduate of IIT Madras. He possesses a broad skill set encompassing strategy and operations, gained from his various roles and industry exposure.

Meet The Authors (GGI Fellows)

Driven by an insatiable intellectual curiosity, Mohit is constantly motivated to seek answers to the most pressing questions that cross his path. Currently, Mohit is pursuing a Masters in Engineering Management program at Northeastern University in Boston. Simultaneously, he is gaining practical experience as a Product Management intern at Plug Power, New York. Embracing the beauty of nature allows Mohit to disconnect from the demands of daily life and reconnect with the serenity and magnificence of the great outdoors.

Shubha is an empathetic individual driven by a deep sense of compassion and a desire to make a difference in the world. She has completed her graduation in Economics from Shri Ram College of Commerce. Her interests encompass reading self-improvement books, indulging in painting, and engaging in reflective writing. Recently, she embarked on her journey in the development sector, working with NGOs to make a tangible impact on society.

Siddhartha is a physics graduate turned business analyst with a passion for trekking, hiking, and tennis. Their analytical skills and scientific mindset bring a fresh perspective to problem-solving. A nature enthusiast and sports lover, Siddhartha thrives on adventure both in and out of the workplace.

Poorva is a self-motivated passionate individual who loves engaging herself in multiple things. She loves self-exploratory writing besides Van Gogh’s art and relishing some good old poetry. She is a history graduate who wishes to open a flower shop once she would have retired. She is soon going to join the Young India Fellowship at Ashoka University after a very fulfilling GGI Impact Fellowship journey.

If you are interested in applying to GGI's Impact Fellowship program, you can access our application link here.



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