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Nearly half a century later, millet is making a comeback, thanks to the intervention of the local administration and NGOs. Today, Hanhaga is among 1990 farmers across 163 villages in Keonjhar who have taken up the cultivation of millet.
In the 1960s and ’70s, with the advent of the green revolution, the Indian taste for cereal tilted towards wheat and rice.
This was the time when Rumbi Hanhaga (56), a farmer from Murgapahadi village in Odisha’s Keonjhar district, switched to growing paddy and vegetables instead of millets. Many others like him followed suit, and soon, millets disappeared from the farms and diets of the people in the state.
“I was 12 when I started helping my father at the farm. Back then, we grew ragi (Eleusine coracana or finger millet) and foxtail millet (Setaria italica) — two varieties of millet — but most of it was for personal consumption. We hardly sold the produce in the market and it was not profitable. Eventually, high-yielding rice varieties came into the picture and almost all the farmers from the village switched to that from the economic point of view,” Hanhaga said.
However, nearly half a century later, millet is making a comeback, thanks to the intervention of the local administration and NGOs. Today, Hanhaga is among 1990 farmers across 163 villages in Keonjhar who have taken up the cultivation of millet.
Under Odisha’s flagship programme for promotion of millets in tribal areas, called Millet Mission, 14 districts were roped in, but Keonjhar was not included. However, the district became the first in the state to introduce the locally cultivated ragi as a part of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) for the first time in Odisha and implement it as a part of the pre-school meal to boost nutritional dietary intakes.
Keonjhar has allocated Rs 1.5 crore for the project from the District Mineral Fund (DMF).
In the first phase, the administration procured 47 quintal of locally-grown ragi from farmers in Keonjhar to distribute ragi laddu mix to students. In September alone, 86,293 students have benefited under the scheme.
Keonjhar District Collector Ashish Thakare said, “The whole idea is to bring millet back into the picture as it is a highly nutritious cereal… For years, it was a traditionally consumed crop. We have introduced ragi in the ICDS program but due to the lockdown, ragi powder is being provided to children at their home instead of laddus. For the initial phase since the cultivation is still low we procured millet from other districts as well to meet our demands but eventually we wish to achieve a circular economy where the entire demand is met through locally grown millet.”
An NGO called the People’s Culture Centre is training farmers in Ghatgan block of the district to revive millet farming. Samarkumar Das, who works with the NGO, said, “Millet was omitted from the public distribution system and from state nutrition programmes for years, which focused mainly on rice and wheat. Low produce and low consumer interest, non-profitability, poor markets and difficult processing methods were reasons why the promotion of millet hit a roadblock. But the crop has a number of advantages like nutritional aspects and it can also withstand drought, is less susceptible to pests and can withstand extreme temperatures unlike other crops.”
These initiatives have further pushed farmers to cultivate millet — its cultivation in Keonjhar has increased from 190 hectare in 2019 to 774 hectare this year.
Many farmers have also adopted a barter system to popularise millet. Chakradhar Mudi, a farmer from Kundapitha village, said, “We do not sell what we produce. Instead we exchange it for vegetables or other crops with other farmers. This way, they too get a chance to consume ragi and can take up cultivation.”