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Promotion of Millets | Nutritional Security | Poverty and Social Welfare

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UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Economy | GS Paper III – Indian Economy

Millet is a common term to categorize small-seeded grasses that are often termed nutri-cereals or dryland-cereals. It includes jowar (sorghum), bajra (pearl millet) and ragi (finger millet), small millet, foxtail millet, proso millet, barnyard millet, kodo millet and other millets.

Kodo millet originated in India. It is assumed that domestication of this millet took place about 3000 years ago. Kodo millet is well suited for tropical and sub-tropical regions. Kodo millet is said to possess the highest drought resistance among all minor millets and believed to give good yield with a growing period lasting 80–135 days.

India, Nigeria and China are the largest producers of millets in the world, accounting for more than 55% of the global production.

For many years, India was a major producer of millets.However, in recent years, millet production has increased dramatically in Africa. In India, pearl millet is the fourth-most widely cultivated food crop after rice, wheat and maize.

The three major millet crops currently growing in India are jowar (sorghum), bajra (pearl millet) and ragi (finger millet).

Major producers include Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Haryana.

Need For Promotion of Millets

  • Sustainable agriculture
    • Millets are Photo-insensitive (do not require a specific photoperiod for flowering).
    • Millets are generally thermophilic (thriving at relatively higher temperatures) and xerophilic (can reproduce with limited water input).
      • Pearl millet can grow on poor sandy soils and is well suited for dry climates due to its ability to use moisture efficiently.
      • Small millets such as finger millet and Kodo millet can be grown in adverse climatic and soil conditions.
    • Millets are C4 carbon sequestrating crops contributing to the reduction of CO2 inthe atmosphere, besides being water efficient.
  • In contrast, paddy is a major contributor to climate change through methane emission (the green-house gas emanating from water-drenched rice fields). Wheat and maize also has high global warming potential.
  • Wheat being a thermally sensitive crop, with increasing temperatures, its production is liable to be adversely affected.
    • Millets are resistant to climatic stress, pests and diseases
  • Millets can be stored for a considerable amount of time under appropriate storage conditions, therefore making them “famine reserves”and this feature is of great relevance for India, as our agriculture suffers from the vagaries ofmonsoon.
    • Millets are not water or input-intensive.It requires little irrigation and no fertilizers at all.
    • Millets have low carbon and water footprint (rice plant needs at least 3 times more water to grow in comparison to millets).
      • Since India, which supports more than 15% of the world’s population, but only has 4% of its water resources, promotion of millets could be helpful.
  • Nutritional Security
    • Higher levels of protein with more balanced amino acid profile.
    • Millets are high in dietary fibre.
    • B-complex vitamins including niacin, thiamine and riboflavin, the essential sulphur-containing amino acid methionine, lecithin, and some vitamin E
    • A powerhouse of nutrients including iron, folate, calcium, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, vitamins and antioxidants.
      • Ragi is known to have the highest calcium content among all the food grains.
      • Its high iron content can fight high prevalence of anaemia in India women of reproductive age and infants.
    • The seeds also contain phyto-nutrients, including phytic acid, which is believed to lower cholesterol, and phytate, which is associated with reducing risk of cancer.
  • Poverty and social welfare

Different sources estimate poverty rates between 37 and 77% of thepopulation with rural areas having more poverty than cities.

  • Tendulkar Committee: 37% (more than 400 million people); rural 42% and urban 26%
  • Saxena Committee: 50% of Indian population BPL
  • Arjun Sengupta: 77% of Indian population BPL
  • World Bank: 42% of Indian population below international poverty line of $1.25/day inPurchasing Power Parity (PPP). 80% of Indian population lives below the $2/day line.
  • UNDP: 54% of the Indian population are poor following multidimensional poverty Index.

Nutritional status is also poor in the country. According to NFHS-5:

  • More than half of the children and women are anaemic in 13 of the 22 States/UTs.
  • Increase in childhood stunting in 13 of the 22 States/UTs compared to the data of NFHS-4.
  • Prevalence of elevated blood pressure (hypertension) has increased.
  • Most States/UTsalsoseeanincrease in overweight/obesity prevalence among children and adults.

Similar indicators find dramaticrates of malnutrition in India (around one fifth of the population), which are especiallystaggering for children (approximately 50% suffer from stunted growth) and women (morethan 35% have below normal body mass indexes).

IndianCouncil for Agricultural Research (ICAR) has reconfirmed the power of agriculturalproductivity in reducing rural poverty: a 1% productivity increase reduces poverty by0.65%.

There exist a valid linkages between millets, povertyreduction, malnutrition alleviation and rural development:

  • Millets are drought resistant and require few external inputs.
  • Highly nutritious
  • food and livelihood security to small and marginal farmers and inhabitants of rainfed areas, especially in remote tribal areas
  • dual-purpose crops providing both food& fodder
  • Health & Disease
    • reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes in adults.
    • They are gluten-freeand have a low glycemic index (a relative ranking of carbohydrate in foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels).This makes them easily digestible and non-allergenic foods.So they are beneficial for Diabetic patients, people having Cancer, Oxidative stress, obesity, Celiac diseases, Gastro-intestinal disorders, and also for patients with heart ailments.
    • The anaemia (iron deficiency), B-complex vitamin deficiency, pellagra (niacin deficiency) can be effectively tackled with intake of less expensive but nutritionally rich food grains like millets.
  • Culture:Millets have significant cultural value due to their long history on the Indian subcontinent. References to millets can be found in mythology,poetry, religious practices, ayurvedic recipes, and in numerous dishes. Millets are notonly food grains; they are still intricately interwoven in the socio-cultural fabric ofnumerous regions.
  • Economic Security
    • Millets can be grown on dry, low-fertile, mountainous, tribal and rain-fed areas.
    • Millets are good for the soil, have shorter cultivation cycles and require less cost-intensive cultivation.
    • Millets and thus can prove to be a sustainable income source for farmers.
    • They provides employment to many people due to the traditional methods of farming involved in their cultivation.
    • The export of millets add to the overall economic growth of the country and also helps boost the GDP of the nation.
    • Millet has a Short growing season of about 65 days which allows it to be a part of multiple cropping systems in both rain-fed and irrigated areas. Millets sequestrate carbon, thereby beneficial  for intercropping with other vital crops
  • International Relation

India exported about 15.4% of the world’s Bajra to roughly 60 countries from 2013 to 2018.More than 40% of global millet consumption is held by African countriesmainlyNiger, Mali, Nigeria, Burkina, and Sudan, where food and nutritional security are the major challenges. India can become an effective exporter to develop better relation with these countries.

Why is India slow in adopting millet-based products?

The average annual growth of millet consumption in India from 1999 to 2016 was only 4.56 %.The highest rise in domestic millet consumption in India was noticed in the years 2002-2003, in which the growth rate reported was about 115.15%.Year by year, the growth rate of millet consumption is declining by the country to an extremely low growth rate of 8.33% in the years 2019-2020.

For all millets there is a dramatic decrease in cultivated area.Dramatic also is the decrease in total production of small millets – 76%.

  • General perception is that the millets are increasingly seen as “poor person’s food”. Therefore, it is necessary to re-brand coarse cereals/millets as nutri-cereals and promote their production and consumption.
  • Historical policy neglect of these crops.
  • Lower or near absence of production support when compared to the support enjoyed by other crops
  • Near lack of reach of improved methods of production and technologies
  • Lack of appropriate post-harvest processing technologies for small millets except finger millet
  • Competition from other market friendly remunerative crops
  • Changes in preference patterns in consumption moving away from them (Sanskritization), mainly due to inclusion of only rice and wheat into the Public Distribution System (PDS)
  • Absence of public or private funded promotion of millets as a nutritious food category

Efforts by government to promote millets:

  • The year 2018 was declared as the National Year of Millets by India. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Council in 2018, approved India’s proposal to observe an International Year of Millets in 2023.
  • Intensive Millets Promotion(INSIMP): Launched in 2012 as a part of the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, wherein Rs.300 crores has been allocated to advancing equipment and technology related to millet harvest and increasing productivity of inefficient areas.
  • Rainfed Area Development Programme: Developing and identifying new areas receiving adequate rainfall for millet farming as a part of the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana(RKVY).
  • In order to promote ‘millets’, India had on its part notified these climate resilient crops as “Nutri-Cereals” and allowed its inclusion in the Public Distribution System (PDS) for improving nutritional support.
  • Recognising millets’ anti-diabetic properties, the government’s notification called it a “powerhouse of nutrients” and identified several varieties of millets for promotion. The millets in the category of “Nutri-Cereals” include Sorghum (Jowar), Pearl Millet (Bajra), Finger Millet (Ragi), Foxtail Millet (Kangani/Kakun) and Buckwheat (Kuttu) among others.
  • Besides, the government had in July substantially hiked the minimum support price (MSP) of millets so that more and more farmers may opt for cultivation of these less water consuming crops.
  • Millets are being purchased at the support price and are also being included in the mid-day meal scheme and public distribution system, for encouraging its consumption.
  • The government also initiated the ‘Integrated Cereals Development Programmes in Coarse Cereals’ under Macro Management of Agriculture.
  • Millets are being promoted under the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) to help provide good nutrition to those who are unable to afford it.
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