Miracle Grains: The Crops of the Future

India’s growing focus on millets across levels and regions has given a new flip to farmers

New Delhi: Millets can not only grow under harsh circumstances but are drought-resistant crops that require fewer external inputs. These miracle crops have been an integral part of our diet for centuries. In addition to a plethora of health benefits, these are also good for the environment with low water and input requirement. With the aim to create awareness and increase production and consumption of millets, United Nations, at the behest of the Government of India, has declared 2023 the International Year Millets.
“We have worked tirelessly to make millets a global movement. In 2018, we declared millets as nutri-cereals. In this direction, work was done at every level from raising awareness in farmers to creating interest in the market. In our country, millets are mainly cultivated in 12-13 states. But, the domestic consumption of millets was not more than 2-3 kg per person per month. Today it has increased to 14 kg per month. The sale of millets-based food products has also increased by about 30 percent,” remarked the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi in his address at the inauguration of Global Millets Conference in March 2023.
Millets on the Menu
Millets are high in nutrition and dietary fibre. They serve as good source of protein, micronutrients and phytochemicals. The millets contain 7-12% protein, 2-5% fat, 65-75% carbohydrates and 15-20% dietary fibre. The essential amino acid profile of the millet protein is better than various cereals such as maize.
PM Modi also pointed out how millet cafes have started appearing at various place and how social media channels related to millets are also being created. Millets have also been selected in 19 districts of the country under the ‘One District, One Product’ scheme.
The seriousness of the government can be well understood from the fact that Millets are also an integral part of theG-20 meetings where delegates will be given an actual millet experience through tasting, meeting farmers and interactive sessions with start-ups and FPOs.
Popularizing Millets
According to the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, in 2016 – 2017, the area under the cultivation of millet declined with 60% less coverage area (to 14.72 million hectares) due to change in consumption pattern, conversion of irrigated area for wheat and rice cultivation, unavailability of millets, low yield, dietary habits, less demand. This resulted in fall in the level of nutrients like vitamin-A, protein, iron and iodine in women and children leading to malnutrition.
To promote the consumption of millets, distribution period of these commodities has been enhanced to 6-10 months from earlier period 3 months.  Further provisions of inter-state transportation and advance subsidy have been incorporated in the guidelines. Under the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme for food products being implemented by Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MoFPI) since 2021-22, a component, with an outlay of Rs. 800 Crore, for Millet Based Products was carved out in the current financial year. A total of 30 applications (8 large entities and 22 SMEs) were approved under this segment.
Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) has been entrusted with the task of promoting Indian millets in the international market. APEDA has published e-catalogues for 30 major millet importing countries and for 21 millet-producing Indian states. The e-catalogues have information on individual country profile; Indian millets and millet value-added basket; millet production scenario, India’s export of millets; international standards of millets; and contact list of exporters, startups, FPOs, importers, and Indian missions in the country. It  has has planned promotion of Indian millets across international trade fairs and hold B2B meetings for the year 2023.
APEDA has also launched a millet-specific web portal that contains information about millets, their health benefits, production and export statistics, millet exporters’ directory, and other relevant information. It has been conducting capacity-building programs throughout the country to facilitate export of millet and millet products. Start-ups on millets are being mobilized for export promotion of value-added products such as Ready to Eat (RTE) and Ready to Serve (RTS) categories, including noodles, pasta, breakfast cereal mix, biscuits, cookies, snacks, sweets, and other millet-based products. A knowledge book titled “Superfood Millets: A USD 2 Billion Export Opportunity for India” has been published by APEDA, in association with a knowledge partner. This book will help the prospective exporters of millets.
Indian army rebooting rations with millets
The Indian Army has steered introduction of Millets Flour in the rations of soldiers. This landmark decision will ensure troops are supplied with native and traditional grains after over half a century, when these were discontinued in favour of Wheat Atta. Three popular varieties of millets flour i.e. Bajra, Jowar and Ragi will be issued to troops duly considering preference. Millets have the benefit of being a good source of proteins, micro-nutrients and phyto-chemicals thus boosting the nutritional profile of soldier’s diet.
In addition, advisories have been issued for Millets to be extensively used in organised functions, Barakhanas, canteens and in home cooking. Centralised training of chefs is being undertaken to prepare wholesome, tasty and nutritious millet dishes. Special emphasis for introducing value added millet items and snacks to troops deployed along Northern borders have been given. Millet foods are being introduced through CSD canteens as well as dedicated corners are being set up in shopping complexes. ‘Know your Millet’ awareness campaigns are also being conducted in educational institutions.
Why Millets?
  • Dual-purpose crops, cultivated as both as food & fodder
  • Mitigating climate change by reducingatmospheric CO2
  • Not dependenton the use of chemical fertilizers
  • Do not attract pests and are not affected by storage
  • Nearly 3 to 5 times nutritionally superior to wheat and rice
Future roadmap
Sustainable Development Goal 2 aims to achieve “zero hunger”. It is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the UN in 2015. The official wording is: “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. Millets could be the profound change  that is needed in the global food and agricultural system to nourish our vast population. With nearly 40 percent of the global land surface being dryland, the millets are the most suitable crop. Besides serving as a fuel and feed, it also has the potential to produce biofuel.
In 2018, th3 millet market size was over US$ 9 billion and will witness more than 4.5% CAGR during 2018-2025 to reach US$ 12 billion. India is the highest producer and also the 5th largest exporter of millets. With the exports increasing exponentially due to demand, India has a golden opportunity to become a millet bowl of the world.