Millet: The super food for combating food and water security

  • IASbaba
  • April 7, 2022
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(ORF: Expert Speak)

April 6th: Millet: The super food for combating food and water security – 


  • GS-3: Agriculture

Millet: The super food for combating food and water security

Context: The United Nations (UN) has declared 2023 as ‘the international year of millets’ and has called  all stakeholders to provide support to draw policy attention to the nutritional and health benefits of millet consumption, and their suitability for cultivation under adverse and changing climatic conditions. Millets have the potential to help achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs)—mainly 

  • SDG 2 (Zero Hunger)
  • SDG3 (Good Health and Well-being)
  • SDG 12 (Sustainable Consumption and Production)
  • SDG 13 (Climate Action). 

According to The International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), more than 90 million people in Africa and Asia depend on millets in their diet. Although the global millet consumption has declined at a rate of 9 percent, the Millet Market forecast for 2022-27 shows promising trends. India dominates the global production at 41 percent, whereas the consumption has been receding over the years. On the other hand, Africa has become the largest consumer of millets at 40 percent.

Growing millet has many advantages: 

  • Being a rain-fed crop with minimal use of fertilisers
  • No pesticide as they are less vulnerable to insect attack
  • Seeds of millet can be stored for years making it advantageous in drought-prone areas.

Millets are multipurpose: 

  • They consume 70 percent less water than rice; grow in half the time of wheat; and require 40 percent less energy in processing. 
  • They are one-stop solution in the wake of climate change, water scarcity, and drought conditions along with high nutritive value to provide sustainable food security. 
  • Millets are an excellent source of antioxidants and help enhance capability of probiotics with potential health benefits. 
  • They play a role in body immune system, a solution to tackle childhood undernutrition and iron deficiency anaemia. Evidence indicates higher nutritive value of millets as compared to other cereal crops.
  • There is ample evidence on nutritive value of millets being a good source of energy, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, soluble and insoluble fiber, antioxidants, iron, zinc, and vitamins and can help eliminate micronutrient deficiency for India and other developing nations. 
  • It helps lower cholestrol, as it is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Sustainable diets are protective of bio diversity and ecosystems with low environment impact, which contributes to food and nutrition security. Diversifying crop production by including more coarse cereals like millets can build foodsupply, reduce Green House Gas (GHG) emissions, and enhance climate resilience without compromising on nutritive value.

Millets are environmentally a better option to grow

  • Millets can thrive at relatively high temperatures (thermophilic)  and reproduce in limited water supply (xerophilic). 
  • A review indicates the positive effect of millet cultivation in the reduction of stress on environmental resources, especially in regions affected by climate change. 
  • Looking at the water security, millets require almost six times less water for growth (20 com) as compared to rice that requires average rainfall of 120-140 cm. 
  • The maturation time for certain millets is 45-70 days, half to that of rice (120-140 days). 
  • Millets convert more carbon dioxide to oxygen, contributing in mitigating climate change.
  • Millets can endure extremely high temperatures to drought to salinity making it a climate resilient crop.

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.

Biofuel and Ethanol Blending

  • 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.

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. 

Some concerns and way ahead

  • A large majority of the consumers in India and other countries prefer consuming paddy because of the ease of cooking and also because of their habits. However, it is to be noted that millets have a short shelf life depending on humidity, temperature, and small market size. This calls for more awareness creation drives on the nutritive values and setting up better storage facilities for the crop for increasing its longevity.
  • Even though millets have been traditionally consumed in past decades, showing improved micronutrient intake and reduced anemia prevalence in women, of late, barriers of cost, taste, perception, and availability have led to decline in consumption of millet.
  • There is an urgent need for strengthening the entire value chain by addressing the gaps and calls for replicating scalable models across states for millet promotion in the country.
  • 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. It is time to unleash the potential of millets by creating awareness of the nutritional values to encourage a shift in consumer choices.

Can you answer the following questions?

  1. What are millets? What are their nutritional benefits? Discuss. 
  2. Can millet cultivation be a viable solution to agrarian and nutritional challenges? Examine.

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