In India, an ancient grain is revived for the modern era

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Read full article By Anne Pinto-Rodrigues@The Monitor Photo Courtes: Bettada Budadha Thota Natural Farm

Seeds of change

Native to Africa and Asia, millets are members of the grass family, Poaceae, a sprawling taxon that includes staple crops like corn, wheat, rice, as well as bamboo, sugarcane, and Kentucky bluegrass. In the past, millets fed the masses of poor and disadvantaged people in India, particularly the Dalits, the lowest rung of the country’s caste system.

That changed in the 1960s, when the so-called Green Revolution replaced traditional farming practices and indigenous seeds with pesticide-and-fertilizer-intensive agricultural techniques and hybrid wheat and rice seeds. But now, climate change is prompting experts and authorities to recognize the hardiness and resilience of this ancient grain.

Cultivating millets has been transformational for the small, landless farmers of the Women’s Collective. In addition to achieving food security and financial independence, about a thousand female farmers have become landowners, and nearly 700 are now practicing collective farming on leased land, between six and 10 members per collective farm. Some 1,300 now have a credit card.

Ms. Francis says that women have taken over governance in at least 75 villages. “We are organizing ourselves, educating ourselves, and fighting for our rightful place in society,” she says.

“A forgotten crop”

In 2013, millets were included in the National Food Security Act, alongside rice and wheat. The act aims to provide highly subsidized food grains to two-thirds of India’s households. Pan-India organizations like the Millet Network of India and the All India Millet Sisters, with grassroots representatives from 15 states, are working to have millets included in every public food program, particularly those for children.

In some Indian states, like the southwestern state of Karnataka and the eastern state of Odisha, the state government actively promotes the production and consumption of millets. In several other states, the revival of millets is led by grassroots organizations, like the Deccan Development Society in the south-central state of Telangana and North East Network in the hilly, northeastern state of Nagaland.

“Millets were a forgotten crop for a while,” says C. Shambu Prasad, professor of strategic management at the Institute of Rural Management Anand. “Hence, there’s a huge lag of public investment in developing the millets ecosystem, for example in processing technology.”

Skills

Posted on

August 26, 2020

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