Let’s not forget the quality of food in crisis, Indian millet entrepreneurs speak out

Pan-India survey highlights areas for government intervention

The Green Revolution was a success for stopping starvation but countries suffered nutritionally and environmentally. Let’s remember this during the COVID-19 crisis and ensure we support healthy food and sustainable practices, in addition to supporting entrepreneurs who are pioneers in bringing healthy, convenient and tasty food to us. See the results of a survey of millet entrepreneurs.

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Let’s not forget the quality of food in crisis, millet entrepreneurs speak out
Pan-India survey highlights areas for government intervention

Hyderabad, 7 May 2020: A recent survey of millet entrepreneurs across India has revealed challenges and areas of intervention for the government including promoting healthy foods, GST exemption, more options for online selling among others, during and post lockdown.

The highest priority help the millet entrepreneurs requested both during and post lockdown was for the government to promote and support healthy food, which includes millet. Nearly 80% requested this for post lockdown, some suggesting programs like the government runs for eggs and milk. A few suggestions made for promoting millet and supporting millet enterprises were inclusion of millet in the mid-day meal schemes and allow Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to play a role in providing the food for mid-day meals and to poor sections of the community.

About 70% of the companies expressed the need for ensuring the economic stimulus includes entrepreneurs and exempting SMEs from Goods and Services Tax (GST). An additional suggestion to support healthy and sustainable foods was “exempt [from GST] all millet based products if millet content more than say 40%”.

Another priority request was to help provide more online selling options. Though nearly half the respondents said they had fewer channels to sell through during the lockdown, the survey clearly showed that the SMEs would vest faith in e-commerce after lockdown. Over 50% of the respondents sought more options for online sale while 66% said they will explore new online channels post lockdown.

The biggest challenge identified during lockdown was supply chain and logistics related issues, which are consistent across all industries. But surprisingly, even post-lockdown about 80% of the entrepreneurs expected supply chain logistics continuing to be the biggest challenge. Close to this was the challenge of availability of funds/working capital.

Priority identified for the government to help, after promotion and support of healthy food, were both to simplify/assist the process of obtaining permission to operate and allowing more transportation (prioritized by over 60% of companies).

For the survey, responses from SMEs in 11 cities having business operations in 24 states and Union Territories was collected as part of the Smart Food initiative, founded by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). The results are being discussed with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), which is working to address challenges faced by the industry.

“Post COVID, millet as a healthy alternative option will grow in demand. Also, millet does not consume fresh water to the extent rice does, making its cultivation a sustainable food alternative,” said Mr P Ravichandran, Chairman of the Agriculture and Food Processing Sub-Committee, CII Southern Region.

Union and state governments across India have been recognizing the value of millets, especially since 2018, when a National Year of Millets was declared followed by establishment of a Millet Mission.

Dr Jacqueline Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT, emphasizes, “Agribusiness is important to ensure agriculture is successful and profitable. Agribusiness and agriculture go together and support for both is important. With COVID-19, we are recognizing this even more through challenges across the value chain.”

Green Revolution halted starvation but brought nutritional and environmental concerns with it. During the COVID-19 crisis, supporting sustainable practices, healthy food and its producers, and the entrepreneurs who are pioneers in bringing healthy, convenient and tasty food to the table is essential.

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) is a non-government, not-for-profit, industry-led and industry-managed organization, playing a proactive role in India’s development process. CII works to create and sustain an environment conducive to the development of India, partnering industry, government and civil society through advisory and consultative processes. With 68 offices, including nine Centers of Excellence in India, 11 overseas offices and partnerships in 133 countries, CII serves as a reference point for Indian industry and the international business.

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is a not-for-profit international agriculture research organization. ICRISAT works across sub-Saharan Africa and Asia with a wide array of partners. The semi-arid tropics or drylands cover 6.5 million square kilometers in 55 countries and are home to over two billion people. ICRISAT is headquartered in Hyderabad, India, with two regional hubs and six country offices in sub-Saharan Africa. ICRISAT is a member of the CGIAR Consortium, a global agriculture research partnership for a food secure future carried out by 15 research centers with hundreds of partner organizations.

Smart Food is a global initiative to bring foods that fulfil all criteria of being good for you, the planet and the farmer into the mainstream. The key objective of Smart Food is to diversify staples with Smart Foods, starting with millets and sorghum. Given that staples often constitute 70% of a meal and typically comprise of refined carbohydrate, and hence little nutrition, this is where we can have a big impact.


Summary flyer of survey results

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