Significance of Millet Farming

  • IASbaba
  • September 8, 2021
  • 0
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  • GS-3: Major crops-cropping patterns in various parts of the country, 
  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Significance of Millet Farming

Context: UN General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring 2023 the International Year of Millets, as proposed by India to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 

About Millets

  • Millets are coarse grains and a repository of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. 
  • They include jowar (sorghum), ragi (finger millet), korra (foxtail millet), arke (kodo millet), sama (little millet), bajra (pearl millet), chena/barr (proso millet) and sanwa (barnyard millet).
  • Millets were one of the oldest foods known to humans. But they were discarded in favour of wheat and rice with urbanization and industrialization
  • India is their largest global producer, with a 41% market share, and a compound annual growth rate of 4.5% is projected for the global millet market in the coming decade. 

What are the advantages with Millets?

  1. Climate Resilience
  • Being hardy crops, they can withstand extreme temperatures, floods and droughts. 
  • They also help mitigate the effects of climate change through their low carbon footprint of 3,218-kg CO2 equivalent per hectare, as compared to wheat and rice, with 3,968kg and 3,401kg, respectively, on the same measure.
  1. Restoration of ecosystems and sustainability: 
  • Land degradation has been a major problem in India, causing massive economic losses year after year. Drought-tolerant crops, like millets, with low dependence on chemical inputs would put far less pressure on ecosystems.
  • The inter-cropping of millets with other crops is especially beneficial because the fibrous roots of millet plants help in improving soil quality, keep water run-off in check and aid soil conservation in erosion-prone areas, thereby restoring natural ecosystems.
  1. Biofuel and Ethanol Blending
  • In June 2021, government set a target of achieving 20% ethanol blending with petrol by 2025.
  • Most bio-ethanol in India is produced using sugar molasses and maize. 
  • However, a study conducted among farmers in Madhya Pradesh showed that bio-ethanol can be created using sorghum (jowar) and pearl millet (bajra), and that this fuel could bring down carbon emissions by about half.
  • Estimates also suggest that millets can deliver greater returns than maize, while using 40% less energy in processing. Millets also offer a significant cost advantage over maize as a feedstock for bio-ethanol production.
  1. A cultural connection
  • The cultivation of millets is deep-rooted in Indian culture. 
  • Organizations like Deccan Development Society have formed women’s collectives in Telangana and are promoting millets through a culture-centric approach. 
  • Such crop sensitization has filtered into urban settings too. In 2018, the #LetsMilletCampaign in Bengaluru saw the use of millets in dishes such as risotto and pizza by restaurateurs. 
  1. Helps address Sustainable DGs: 
  • Millets can play a role in India’s sustainability policy interventions. Contemporary research developments have shed light on the influence of millets on energy optimization, climate resilience and ecosystem restoration. 
  • Millet farming has led to women’s empowerment, too. The Odisha Millet Mission, for example, saw 7.2 million women emerge as ‘agri-preneurs’.

What are the concerns with Millets growth?

  • A rise in incomes and urbanization has reduced the demand for millets
  • Inadequate government policies.
  • Unjust pricing for farmers due to intermediaries.
  • Lack of input subsidies and price incentives.
  • Procurement and subsidised supply of rice & wheat through the PDS has made farmers shift from millets to these crops.
  • Millets being used for various purposes other than for consumption. 

Way Forward

  • Incentivizing the adoption of inter-cropping with millets (two or more crops planted side by side) and providing crop insurance and support for storage facilities will foster income and food security. 
  • Brimming with potential, millets can act as a vital cog in the country’s sustainable development wheel if backed by policies that promote their production, incentivize farmers and strengthen market linkages.

Connecting the dots:

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