Rediscovering millets                            

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Read full article By Madhukar Upadhya @ Kathmandu Post hoto Credit: The Kathmandu Post

The grain can potentially improve the nutrition and health security of a large population.

The UN General Assembly has declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets. Perhaps no other time would’ve been more appropriate to celebrate the benefits of millets than at present; their suitability for cultivation under harsh hydro-meteorological conditions makes them perfect for what we’re likely to face under a rapidly changing climate. The more we hear about how suitable this grain is for adapting to extended droughts and degraded land—an increasing likelihood as a result of more extreme events—the more we can appreciate how sensible our forefathers were to include millet in the list of crops they took on to adapt to their environment.

A variety of millets, including Kodo (finger millet), Junelo (sorghum millet), Kaguno (foxtail millet), Chino (proso millet) are grown across different agro-climatic zones in Nepal. The dominant among them is the Kodo, the fourth major crop after paddy, wheat, and maize. Kodo is grown mostly in marginal lands or as a relay crop following maize in the hills to best utilise the left-over nutrients and the remaining rain and soil moisture of late August and September. Agriculture scientists believe millet is important for humans because it’s not only widely adapted to marginal lands with low fertility, it also has a low infestation of crop pests and diseases. The grain can be stored for years without storage pests ruining the stocks. Most importantly, it grows well where other crops generally fail.

Furthermore, millet is gluten-free, nutrient-dense containing rich micronutrients, dietary fibres, rare amino acids, vitamins, and account for higher protein, calcium, and iron. These are essential for a healthy diet; those living a more sedentary life may benefit from incorporating such a grain in their diets. In that sense, millet can potentially improve the nutrition and health security of a large population if properly integrated.

However, millet is not a cereal that is currently eaten as a regular portion of the diet. In most areas, even those who traditionally consumed millet have shifted to eating rice, wheat and maize, made possible by better access to markets with expansion of rural roads and improved financial capabilities due to remittance income. The younger generations have hardly even tasted it!

Recognising millet’s importance, efforts were made in the 1970s and following decades to collect and preserve available millet germplasms. Between 1975 and 1995, more than a thousand accessions of millet species were collected and conserved by a research programme. Unfortunately, those germplasms were destroyed when arson consumed the office building that housed the samples during the decade-long insurgency in Kavre.

Crop of the future

Agriculture scientists are worried about the prospects of food security as the climate crisis deepens. As a potential solution, ‘climate-smart agriculture’ has been promoted to help farmers adapt to these climate stresses. The merits of such concepts and the need for their promotion are beyond reproach. However, the problem with any new initiative, including those related to adaptation, is that they hardly reach the marginal farmers who cultivate degraded fringe lands, and even if they do, it’s often too late as they abandon farming or opt to join the labour market when farming fails to meet their needs. The truth is that marginal farmers seldom have the luxury of waiting until a feasible farming model is found for them to adopt


Posted on

March 26, 2021

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