Good for the planet
Hardy and drought tolerant
- Millets are some of the few cereal crops that can grow in arid lands.
- With global warming, 40% of land where maize is grown in sub-Saharan Africa may not support that crop by 2030. The millet crop survives drought conditions better than maize.
- Millets are tolerant to high temperatures; some pearl millet varieties survive at temperatures of up to 64°C.
- Highly water efficient, pulses are crops that grow in drought-prone areas with very little water. They significantly help to improve soil fertility by fixing atmospheric nitrogen in the soil and promoting growth of beneficial soil microbes.
- Pulses make a positive contribution in reducing release of greenhouse gases.
Some millets need only 60-65 days to mature, as against 100-140 days for wheat.
Smart Food crops require fewer farm inputs
- Little or no fertilizer required.
- Easier to grow for poor farmers with difficult access to inputs.
- Greater crop diversity on farm reduces pests and climate risks, improving farmers’ overall resilience.
Low carbon footprint
- Production of pulses has lower carbon footprint than most animal sources of protein.
- Better farming practices, including use of pulse crops, can lower the average carbon footprint by 24-37%.
- The energy footprint of chemical (nitrogenous) fertilizers is over 7.5 times greater than that of other fertilizers such as phosphate and potash. Pulses help reduce use of chemical fertilizers by fixing atmospheric nitrogen naturally in the soil.
Low water footprint
- Pulses and animal products (chicken, mutton, beef etc.) both are rich sources of protein. However, water used to produce 1 g protein in milk, eggs and chicken is 1.5 times more than that used for pulses, while for mutton and beef, it is 3.3 times and 6 times more, respectively.
Nitrogen fixing and soil phosphorus release
- Pulses in the crop cycle play a major role in nitrogen fixation and in reducing carbon footprint worldwide.
- Pulses fix atmospheric nitrogen through a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria living inside their root systems.
- Chickpea leaves 20.4 kg/ha of residual nitrate in the soil after harvesting, the highest among pulses.
- Production and application of nitrogen fertilizer accounts for 57–65% of the carbon footprint of each crop.
- Pulses help in efficient use of soil phosphorus by breaking down insoluble phosphates in the soil.
Soil microbe diversity
- Crops grow better in soils with diverse soil organisms as they help break down and cycle nutrients more efficiently.
- Presence of diverse soil organisms tend to ‘crowd out’ disease-causing bacteria and fungi, resulting in healthier plants.
- Growing pulse crops in rotation enables the other crops to benefit from this large, diverse population of soil organisms.
Smart Food crops – millets and legumes – are highly nutritious. Millets are inherently rich in nutrients such as iron, calcium, and zinc. They are also high in fiber and have low glycemic indexes. Fermented millet products are beneficial in maintaining gut health due to their probiotic nature. Legumes are affordable protein sources that contribute towards building and repairing muscles and tissues. Combined together, millets and legumes form a potent dietary option that may reduce risks of diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Smart Food crops are most resilient and best survive the harsh environments present in the drylands. Hence, they are climate-smart crops.
In times of drought, millets are practically the last crop standing. Millets, sorghum and legumes have close to the lowest water and carbon footprints of all crops.
The climate resilience of these crops means that they are a good risk-management strategy for farmers. Legumes have an important role to play in soil nutrition and, when rotated with other crops, even increase the water-use efficiency of the entire crop rotation. Their multiple uses and untapped demand means that they have a lot more potential. Plus, unlike other crops they have not yet reached a yield plateau and have great potential for productivity increases.