Yesterday, we discussed the need to rename millets as Nutri cereals. Continuing with the subject, let me share with you the salient features from a Hyderabad declaration of Millet Network of India. This declaration came up from a conference that was organised by the Deccan Development Society, Hyderabad, on June 5-6, 2008.
Millets can definitely play an important role in mitigating the terrible impact of the agrarian crisis that engulfs the countryside. These crops have to be brought back in the mainstream farming. These are the crops that are suitable for the rainfed areas, and can rescue farmers from the ecological, climate change and energy crisis.
The declaration states that millets can grow under completely rainfed conditions and therefore do not need irrigation for their cultivation. They can be raised in the harshest of environments and therefore can support farming in the most challenged ecological zones. They can earn India energy independence since they can be farmed with either none or very minimum external inputs. This potential of millets has the capacity to make millet farmers food sovereign.
Unfortunately over the last three decades millets have been progressively marginalized from the Indian agriculture and have lost nearly 35% of their cultivated area from 45.9 Mha in 1990 to 31.5 Mha in 2005. A slew of policy measures that have ignored millets, a hostile market and their social undermining by many sectors including media have been the root cause for this marginalization.
Therefore there is an imperative need to reclaim millets into our farming and policy landscape. In order to realize this, the Hyderabad declaration calls for:
1. The first need is to put millets into the Public Distribution System. Different parts of India grow different kinds of millets. Rajasthan along with a large part of Rainfed India cultivates Pearl Millet [Bajra]. Deccan plateau [Marathwada in Maharashtra, Telangana in Andhra Pradesh and North Karnataka in Karnataka] is well known for sorghum. Southern Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Orissa and Southern Karnataka are the home of Finger millet [Ragi]. Uttarakhand and other hill and tribal areas cultivate a range of small millets such as Foxtail, Proso, Kodo and Barnyard. The Indian PDS system will be enriched with the high nutritive quality of these millets if they are included in it.
2. A nutritive analysis of millets vis a vis the major grains such as rice and wheat prove that nutrient to nutrient, millets score over the other grains. They have 30 to 300% more nutritional elements such as Calcium, Minerals, Iron, Fibre, and many other micronutrients,
The pro millet PDS paradigm must depend on a completely decentralized approach, supported by the government, both in procurement and in storage. This will resolve the question of availability and keeping quality.
3. Government must urgently provide space for millet based foods in the ICDS, Mid Day Meals, Residential schools meals and welfare hostel programmes. All these together will open up new markets for millet farmers and revitalize them. There are a number of institutional mechanisms that needs to be created, nurtured and developed.
Millets need a number of enabling conditions. One of them is to increase livestock which are local breeds and adapted to local ecosystems. This will create a symbiotic relationship between the farming and pastoralism, such as increased organic manure, fodder availability, milk production and increased incomes for farmers.
The rainfed lands where millets are grown need urgent attention for their productivity enhancement. This could be achieved through special watersheds on millet lands and dovetailing government’s empowerment programmes such as NREGA to support millet cultivation from sowing to harvesting.
Millet farms are intrinsically biodiverse. This aspect must not be overlooked. Therefore farming system development should become the aim and not single crop development. The monitoring, evaluation and research on millet cultivation must be tailored to this special quality of millet farming system.
Policy makers and donors must take note of the fact that millets make way for a dynamic diversity on farmers fields.
Millets can be cultivated without using groundwater or any irrigated water. Their energy requirement from sources such as chemical fertilizers, pesticides, water and power can be near zero. Therefore this production system must be honored through offering socio-ecological bonus to millet growing farmers. Appropriate institutional mechanisms must be developed to assess this.
Institutional finance and insurance which is offered generously to farmers who cultivate preferred grains such as rice and wheat and non food crops must be extended to millet farmers also.
Research institutions must concentrate on a new thrust on millets particularly on areas and issues that involves productivity and nutrition. The research must also take on the agenda of conserving the germplasm and using the diversity in crop improvement programs, particularly for traits related to nutrition and productivity. While such research from formal science is extremely necessary, farmers’ involvement must also be brought to the forefront with several people-centered and people-directed studies which are are bound to offer exciting perspectives.
Apart from the focus on community-controlled local food security, millets should enter the new and emerging markets for the burgeoning health conscious, urban populations with value addition as health food using appropriate processing and other technologies.
A network of NGO-facilitated markets which promote millets from their areas is key to this market promotion. This rescues millets from the trap of the corporate controlled organic markets which have narrow parameters of profit and not the wider concept of millets.
This should ultimately lead to an autonomous federation of millet growing farmers markets.
1. There is an urgent need to produce a range of educational materials highlighting the health, nutrition and theraputic values of millets addressing the consumers and ecological values of millets addressing the farmers.
2. Countrywide there are excellent practices and experiences concerning millet farming, processing and cooking. These must be documented and experiences shared and information disseminated.
3. Farmer Exchanges can be key to the revival of millets. Such exchanges should be supported through appropriate funding support in order to build a new confidence and vibrancy among millet farming community.