Economy India
Cover Story

Millets and SDGs

 

By, Dr Anamika Choudhary

Head, Dept of Economics

DSMNRU

Millets- the powerhouse of nutrients has been considered by the United Nations after being

proposed by Government of India and in its drive to bring this traditional grain back into the

food of India and the world economy with a rising momentum, 2023 has been declared as the

International Year of Millets. Researches have shown that this coarse grain acts as a good

defence in fighting against diabetes and also has climate resilience properties. The

nomenclature of millets as a coarse grain has thus been changed by the government to

nutricereals so that the consumers may recognize its benefits in a better way and include it in

their diet to remain healthy. The promotion of millets is also an effort to attain and achieve the

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 2 related to zero hunger, SDG 3

concerned with good health and well-being, SDG 12 which deals with sustainable

consumption and production and SDG 13 of climate action. According to new research

by Global Market Insights, Inc, “The millets market is set to grow from its current market

value of more than $9 billion to over $12 billion by 2025. Favorable government initiatives to

proliferate the global millets market size over 2019-2025”.

Classification of grains based on nutritional value:

On the basis of nutritional value, the millet grains are broadly classified into three types:

✓ Positive millet grains

✓ Neutral millet grains

✓ Negative millet grains

  1. Positive grains: all minor millets are positive grains as they have nutritional value in them

and they do not generate any toxic waste. They have dietary fiber ranging from 8% to 12.5%.

Instead, consuming these grains detoxify the body. Positive millets have numerous health

benefits as they have the highest dietary fiber. Examples are Foxtail millet locally known as

Kangni, Barnyard millet or Sanwa, Browntop millet also called Korale/ chhoti Kangni, Kodo

 

millet i.e., Kodra, and little millet (Kutki). Only Proso, popularly known as chena or barri in

India is not considered as positive grain.

  1. Neutral grains: Three major millets fall in this category. The dietery fiber content is between

3 percent to 6 percent. The feature of neutral grain is that though they have immense nutritional

value but neither they are toxic to the body not do they detoxify the body. They are simply

neutral. Pearl Millet (Bajra), Finger Millet (Ragi), Proso Millet, and Sorghum Millet fall in this

category.

  1. Negative grains: all hybrid varieties fall in this category. Wheat and rice are considered as

negative grains. Chemical fertilizers are used in their cultivation to increase their production so

that the increased demand is catered through high yield production.

A Historical background of millets:

Millets are basically a collective group of small seeded annual grasses and are grown as grain

crops for consumption purpose. The earliest evidence of millets is found in Indus civilization

approximately around 3000 B.C. It is believed that it was the ancient food grain and the first

plant which was cultivated for food consumption. For example, finger millet was domesticated

5000 years ago in Africa; pearl millet 4000 years ago; foxtail millet 8000 years ago. Being a

 

drought resistant crop, they are grown and cultivated on marginal dry lands in temperate, sub-

tropical and tropical regions. Though this crop is grown in about 131 countries but for Asis and

 

Africa, it is the traditional food for not less than 59 crore people.

Nine types of millets (coarse grains), three major and six minor are grown in the country. Major

millets include jowar (pearl millets), bajra (sorghum), and ragi (finger millets). Minor millets

are kodo, kakun (foxtail millets), sanwa (little millets), kangni (barnyard millet), harikangni

(browntop millet) and chena (proso millet). The top five states that grow millet crop are

Rajasthan (Bajra/Sorghum), Karnataka (Jowar/Ragi), Maharashtra (Ragi/jowar), Uttar Pradesh

(Bajra) and Haryana (Bajra).

 

Primary millets grown in Uttar Pradesh are jowar, bajra, kodo and sanwa. Bajra, jowar, ragi and

other millets may be collectively known as mota anaaj or coarse grains but as remarked by the

farmers, the name is based on its appearance. These are tiny grains and are called coarse grains

for the nutritional value that they carry rather than the size or shape that they look like. The

production of millets which declined since the advent of green revolution has shown a revival

with the realization of the nutrients that it carries and the less amount of water that it uses for

its cultivation. Traditionally considered as the coarse grain and consumed by the lower class,

this highly nutrient grain has shown a comeback with a gained momentum and the rich class

and the elite section of the economy are seen to increase their demand for consumption for the

nutritional benefits that these millets carry.

Production and consumption of millets:

A comparative study of the millet production in the year 2018 and 2020 (data by FAO)

states that the production in India which was 38 percent in 2018 increased to 41 percent in 2020.

The production in China also marked an increase by 2 percent. Other countries which accounted

for only 14 percent in 2018 also showed an increase of 8 percent in just two years’ time. This

shows that the world had recognized its nutritional value and the cultivation is being attempted

in other countries as well beside the countries of Asia and Africa.

 

Millet production (%) in different countries of the world 2018 and in 2020 (FAO)

According to reports by FAO, 2021, India produces about 80 percent of Asia and 20 percent of

global production. In weight, it produces more than 170 lakh tons of millets covering an area of

138 lakh ha. While the global average yield is 1229 kg/ha, the Indian economy average is 1239

kg/ha. India is considered to be the top consumer of millets in the world as stated by FAO.

Indians eat about 42 percent of millets produced globally, next succeeded by Nigeria whose

consumption is 27 percent.

 

Over a period of 9 years, i.e., from 2013-14 to 2021-22, the production of millets in India in

million tonnes have shown a mixed trend of rise and fall in different years but since 2018-19,

the trend has been on an increase. This reflects the increased demand for this grain due to which

its production has been on the rise successively.

State wise production of millets:

 

As per the 2018-19 data, Rajasthan produces 44 percent, followed by Uttar Pradesh (21 percent),

Haryana and Gujarat contributing to 10 percent of production each while Madhya Pradesh,

Maharashtra and Karnataka produce only 7 percent, 4 percent and 2 percent respectively. In the

year 2021-22, the production of Rajasthan fell to 39 percent and that of Uttar Pradesh to 20

percent, while that of Haryana and Gujarat increased to 12 and 11 percent respectively.

 

State of millets before and after green revolution:

 

Before the advent of Green Revolution, the production of wheat, barley and maize combined

together was not as much as the production of rice and millets. But when the wave of green

revolution occurred, the production of wheat, maize accelerated but that of millets fell down

considerably. A consumption food grain was left to become a fodder for the crop in a couple

of decades. This was one of the bad consequences of green revolution. The area under the

production of millets is declined as it started to be used more for the production of rice and

wheat. Around 1965-70, millets constituted 20 percent of our food consumption in grain form

which subsequently declined to 6 percent in later years. A comparison of wheat and jowar

would give a clear picture of the cropped area. While the cropped area under jowar declined

from 12 percent to 3.1 percent, that of wheat increased more than double from 7.6 percent to

16.2 percent.

 

Source : FAO, 2021

Role of Millets in achieving Sustainable Development goals

Of the 17 SDGs, five goals relate to the role of millets in attaining them. Goal 2 which is

attaining zero hunger aims to end hunger, achieving food security and improving the nutrition

and promoting sustainable agriculture (UN General Assembly, 2015) can be achieved with the

promotion of millets cultivation. Its cultivation does not require or require relatively very less

fertilizer or pesticide as input and can be grown in dry land areas where there is less rain

(Devkota et al., 2016). Millets are not easily prone to insect attack as compared to other cereals

(Goron & Raizada, 2015; Gupta et al., 2017; Saxena et al., 2018). The finger millet variety has

the characteristics to be stored for a number of years without the risk of being damaged by

insects. It is well known that insects are easily found in the drought prone regions of Africa.

Other crops require pesticides but millets do not. The advent of green revolution did not catered

to the production of millets and so no efforts were made to improve its demand which was a

fortunate reason as to why fertilizers were not used in the production of millets as was exercised

in the production of other major cereals like wheat and rice. Millets can be comfortably grown

on the slopes of hills and barren lands as in many regions of Asia and Africa, where millets are

used as animal fodder. The variety of millet-pearl millet is highly tolerant to high temperatures

and dry climate. Thus it is very much suited for changing climates. For such properties, millets

are considered to be climate resilient crop and can help to promote sustainable agriculture

(Thilakarathna & Raizada, 2015). Without harming the environment, the production of millets

which does not use fertilizers and insecticides etc. is considered to preserve the ecology and

promote sustainable agriculture. In contrast to the other crops which damage the ecology

 

because of the excessive use of inputs like fertilizers, millets are a healthy nutricereal which

does no damage to environment. The sustainable development goal of sustainable production

and consumption can be achieved through millets. The Goal 13 of climate action can also be

met as millets provide climate resilience features. The target and indicators of the SDG 13 (13.b

section) aim to ‘promote mechanisms for raising capacity for effective climate change-related

planning and management in least developed countries and small island developing States’ (UN

General Assembly, 2015). It can be explained in the way that millet based agriculture would

not use fertilizer and pesticides as input in the production process which would then not impact

the environment adversely. The adverse effects of global warming and climate change can be

overcome when millets are considered for food production.

Additionally, the significance of (N) fertiliser in linking grain production systems to SDGs has

been emphasized upon (Ladha et al., 2020). Nitrogen has been seen as a crucial resource for

improving food security and achieving numerous SDGs. By lowering the demand for fertilizer,

millets could, in the future, play a significant role in satisfying food demand and enhancing food

security. Similar to rice cultivation, increasing millet production’s value-added processing could

assist rural communities produce revenue and achieve SDG 1.

A rise in millet production is necessary in the upcoming years due to consumers’ steadily

growing preference for millets due to sickness related to lifestyle choices. Foods based on millet

are increasingly suggested for a balanced diet and to address a number of health problems in

modern times. Consuming millet could assist in achieving SDG 3 (Good health and well-being).

Essential nutrients might not be present in modern food systems. For customers to consume

more millet, they must change their eating behaviours. It has been reported that changing the

food system and promoting regional cuisines like millets are crucial for achieving the SDGs

(Pradhan et al., 2021). Promoting millet cultivation and consumption could assist in achieving

many UN SDGs because many other SDGs are interconnected. Millets also have strong climate

resistance characteristics, requiring less water than conventional cereals, which is also seen to

be a crucial property for existing and future agricultural settings. due to weather changes

brought on by global warming, particularly the regular drought. To address the problems

associated with agriculture’s water shortage, millets are also seen as crops of the future. Most

millets require only 70 to 80 days to mature, requiring less time on the ground to maintain than

 

major grains like rice and wheat, which need more than 100 days (Saha et al., 2016). Therefore,

encouraging millet farming could aid in promoting sustainable agriculture and achieving the

UN SDGs.

Health benefits of Millets:

Naked grains: Jowar, bajra, and ragi are richer in fiber content and are termed as naked grains

as they do not have layer of husk and therefore are easily consumable. Grains which have a

covering lose their fiber when are being polished. In the state of Uttar Pradesh, bajra has a

maximum area under cultivation followed by jowar but as far as ragi is concerned, the

cultivation is found to be negligible.

The presence of fiber in the grains is the real element that made it a nutritional grain. A

minimum of 5 percent fiber is required in any grain to term it as nutritious. Millets have a high

content of fiber. In comparison to rice which has only 1.2 percent of fiber and that too is

contained in its husk and bran layer which is shredded away in polished rice. Only unpolished

rice has such fiber content. Wheat which is considered to be the staple food of many states in

India do not possess even that percent of fiber. The fiber content is reduced to 0.5 percent when

compared with unpolished rice.

The health benefits of millets can be highlighted as below:

 

  • Helps in preventing Celac disease
  • Helps in slowing down muscle degeneration
  • Helps in relieving menstrual cramps
  • Reduces risk of colon cancer
  • Helps to decrease high blood pressure
  • Controls diabetes
  • It is a good source of antioxidants
  • Treats coronary artery disorder
  • Helps in weight loss

Hub of Millets: Bundelkhand

The cultivation of millets does not require too much of rainfall or very rich soil. It is seen that

millets can grow in every agro climatic zone. With less water and temperature above 25 percent,

 

millets can easily be cultivated. The region of Bundelkhand has sandy soil and the terrain is also

unlevelled. It has come up to become a hub of millets. For years, bajra, jowars, and makka are

being grown predominantly all over the Bundelkhand region. No form of water logging is seen

in this region, the reason being the sandy soil and the unlevelled terrain.

Cultivation of millets – efforts to promote it

UP Millets Revival programme was launched by the state government and later on was

approved by the cabinet to promote the cultivation, production and consumption of millets for

a five-year period from 2023 till 2026-27. About 187.2 crore budget was laid aside for this

programme. Farmers would be given mini kits of seeds free of cost to grow millets. Primary

millets grown in Uttar Pradesh are jowar, bajra, kakun and sanwa. While these millets are

widely cultivated, the cultivation of kakun and ragi is found to be negligible in the state. In

2021-22, millets were sown in 10.8 laklh hectare land of which the maximum chunk of land is

under bajra cultivation and over 1.7 lakh hectare under jowar cultivation.

Uttar Pradesh is the second largest producer of millets. About 50 lakhs metric tons of millets

are produced in Uttar Pradesh which is about 19.6 percent of total production in the country.

Traditionally, millets cultivation was done in Uttar Pradesh but the advent of green revolution

reduced the area of cultivation under millets and replaced it by the cultivation of wheat and other

foodgrains.

Efforts to popularize millets:

The Uttar Pradesh government initiated various efforts to popularize this nutritional grain by hosting

dinners for ministers where food made from millets were served. The Chief minister expected that

ministers should try to host such lunches and dinners where millets could be the chief ingredient in the

food served. Various food items could be made out of millets and would be relished by people in

general. Some items like gulab jamun made of jowar, gur ki kheer made from Kakun, makka palak and

rotis made from ragi, chana, jowar, bajra and makka and also kheer made of sanwa may be prepared to

let the people know that millets can replace those grains which are of less nutritional value and are in

fact detrimental to health.

Positive impact on environment

Millets develop for a shorter time, about 90 days, thus the water intake is actually decreased in this

situation. The amount of water needed is considerably less. The water at ground level is not much

 

diminished as a result. Thus, millet planting has a favourable effect on the groundwater. Additionally,

no chemical pesticides or fertilisers are required for its production. Millets are grown using native seeds

because these seeds do not benefit from chemical-based fertilisers. The expansion of the soil’s microbial

population boosts land production. The use of machinery in the cultivation of wheat and millets is a key

differentiation. Contrary to the cultivation of wheat and paddy, millets do not require the use of

equipment. As such the harvest of millets generates fodder for cattle.

Future challenges

The size of production, which must be raised whenever the demand for coarse grains surges, is reportedly

the biggest obstacle for millets. It is very evident that native seeds do not require fertilisers, but they do

not yield much. When millets are in high demand, as they appear to be in the current and future scenario,

hybrid seeds will be required, which will encourage the use of fertilisers rather than chemically based

inputs. This will adversely affect the nutritional value of the crops.

 

Opportunities for millet start-ups

Can start-ups be far behind if a company is ready to be taken advantage of? There are several

places where opportunities are available. Of course, before embarking on a tour, business

owners would need to assess demand for their offering. With investments totaling more than

Rs. 6 crore, the government has supported 66 start-ups.Government must take action to

increase demand and encourage production. The opposite in favour of millets is probably also

feasible, if that’s what the country wants, given that policy and technological advancement

were able to increase the consumption

 

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