Baba’s Explainer – The millet mission

  • IASbaba
  • January 9, 2023
  • 0
Environment & Ecology, International Relations
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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.

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).

What are 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 Development Goals: 
  • 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’.

Where does India stand in Millet production?
  • India is the largest producer of millet in the world with a share of 41% in 2020, as per FAO. Nine types are grown as kharif crops in over 20 States in the country.
  • Major millets include finger millet (ragi or mandua), pearl millet (bajra) and sorghum (jowar) and minor millets include foxtail millet (kangani or kakun), barnyard millet (sawa or sanwa, jhangora), little millet (kutki), kodo millet (kodon), proso millet (cheena) and browntop millet.
  • Rajasthan, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh are leading producers.
  • Though productivity has increased over the years, the area under cultivation of millets declined, especially after the Green Revolution, with a policy thrust on other grains
  • This gradually impacted the expansion of millets production in the country. In 2019, India accounted for 80% of the total production of these grains in Asia and 20% globally — around 170 lakh tonnes from138 lakh hectares of land, providing yield per hectare greater than the global average.
  • India is also among the top five exporters— India exported millets worth $64.28 million in 2021-22 and $59.75 million in 2020-21.
What are government initiatives to push Millets production?
  • Part of Food Security: While the National Food Security Act(NFSA) does not mention millets, coarse grains are included in the definition of “foodgrains” under Section 2(5) of the NFSA.
  • Procurement: The government has set a target to procure 13.72 LMT coarse grains during the Kharif Marketing Season (KMS) 2022-23, more than double the 6.30 LMT procured during KMS 2021-22.
  • MSP for Millets: The government declares a Minimum Support Price (MSP) for jowar, bajra, and ragi.
  • International Year of Millets: Millet is grown mainly in low-income and developing countries in Asia and Africa, and are part of the food basket of about 60 crore people across the globe. By proposing the resolution to celebrate 2023 as the International Year of Millets, India pitched itself as a leader of this group. This is similar to India’s initiative of International Solar Alliance.
What are the concerns with millets?
  • Inadequate Push by Government: The quantity of coarse grains procured for the Central Pool and distributed under the NFSA has been negligible. Only 2.64 lakh metric tonnes (LMT) of coarse grain was available in the Central Pool on November 1, 2022. In comparison, the stocks of rice, wheat, and unmilled paddy were 265.97 LMT, 210.46 LMT, and 263.70 LMT respectively.
  • Poor Consumption behaviour: Less than 10 per cent of rural and urban households reported consumption of millets. For instance: In rural areas, of the 11.231 kg of cereals consumed by a person in a month in 2011-12, 6.125 kg was rice, and 4.439 kg was wheat. Very little millets were consumed: 201 grams jowar, 246 g bajra, 75 g ragi, and 4 g of small millets.
  • Regional Imbalancement in consumption of millets: The consumption of millets was reported mainly from Gujarat (jowar and bajra), Karnataka (jowar and ragi), Maharashtra (jowar and bajra), Rajasthan (bajra), and Uttarakhand (ragi).
  • Other concerns include
    • Unavailability of good quality seeds
    • Restricted cultivation
    • Low shelf life of grains
    • Lack of research
    • Absence of machinery for processing
    • Market gaps
    • Lack of Consumer awareness

Main Practice Question: What are millets? What are the advantages with millets?

Note: Write answer his question in the comment section.

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