Boost Millets for Health and Climate  

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The UN’s declaration that 2023 will be the International Year of Millets will hopefully give a boost to the production and consumption of these neglected but beneficial food crops. The resolution in the General Assembly was sponsored by India and was unanimously adopted. Millets are high on nutrition and have many advantages over wheat and rice, which are the most commonly consumed food grains. They were staple diets in many parts of the world but have now been largely pushed out of the farm and the kitchen. They are widely considered to be the poor man’s food. There is a wide variety of millets across the world, some of which have gone out of cultivation or are produced in small pockets. The main surviving millets are pearl millet (bajra), sorghum (jowar), finger millet (ragi) and barley. There are other lesser known varieties, too.

Millets need to be promoted for their high nutritional and ecological value. Malnutrition is a serious problem in many parts of the world, especially in poor and developing countries, including India. It is now agreed that millets should have a bigger role in fighting malnutrition, which causes stunting and other problems for children. They have high fibre, minerals and vitamin contents. Many of these are absent or deficient in food grains like rice and wheat. They are also known to possess properties that help to control diabetes and reduce the risk of many diseases. Because of their nutritional value, they have been named as nutri-cereals. Millets were popular in India, but their production and consumption shrank a er the Green Revolution, which was about rice and wheat. Government policies also worked against millets. While rice and wheat had minimum support prices and were procured by government agencies and distributed through the public distribution system, millets went out of favour because they did not have such support.

Millet cultivation has many merits. While rice and wheat are water-intensive crops and their intensive cultivation has resulted in the lowering of the water table, millets need less water, are droughttolerant and more resistant to heat, pests and diseases. They are more e icient in using solar energy and have an ecological advantage. They absorb carbon from the atmosphere while the rice crop releases greenhouse gases. So, they are most useful in the fight against climate change. Governments should frame policies that will lead to a millet revolution. Cultivation of millets should become more remunerative, and their advantages publicised widely. It will, of course, be a major challenge because tastes, practices and habits, culture and economy are all involved in it.


Posted on

March 22, 2021

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