The modern world has a legion of diet-conscious people who adopt a healthy and protein-rich lifestyle. To propagate the agenda of a nutritious way of life and to highlight the potential of primordial cereals, the United Nations (UN) has denominated 2023 as the “International Year of Millets” under the aegis of the Indian government. Millets are not only nutritiously wholesome but also have unconventional properties of being drought-resistant and suitable for cultivating in not-so-fertile soil.
Image Graphics by Team Geostrata
Millets were an indispensable part of ancient people’s meals in Africa, China, the Korean Peninsula, and the Indian Subcontinent. In India, currently, these grains are grown in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, etc. Other global-south millet-producing nations are Niger and China, and together with India, they account for 55% of the overall production.
There are various types of millets such as Sorghum and Barnyard. India being the largest producer of millet (37.5%) in the world, and an ever increasingly health conscious population of our nation provides the government with every reason to focus their attention on its outreach and awareness among the non-health sentient folks. Millets have sundry health benefits such as they are rich in antioxidants, may help control sugar and cholesterol levels, and most importantly being gluten-free.
According to a survey by ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics), 30% of Indians attribute their millets consumption to health problems. 40% of the respondents cite that millets are not prevalent in their family dietary lifestyle which is the reason behind them not including it in their regular meals.
Covid epoch too has catalysed people to look towards healthy food options and millets present themselves as the most nutritiously satisfying and easily available source for the same. Thus, the pandemic has only served to push the cause for millet utilization.
This testifies that there is a wide scope for the authorities to spread the importance of millets across the files and ranks of the Indian population. Furthermore, India being the president of G20 2023, has a greater responsibility to popularise and preach the agenda, especially among the global south. Not only can it solve the quandary of malnourishment but also provide the developing nations of the African region with a mammoth trade opportunity.
INDIA'S MILLET PRODUCTION THROUGH THE YEARS-
Millet trade, though not as high as rice and wheat, has been one of the largest in terms of numbers. There are 16, major, varieties of millet, which are produced and exported by India, making it the fifth largest in the world. The Agriculture and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) has envisioned increasing millet and value-added product exports to $100 million by 2023-24, up from $64.28 million in 2021-22.
However, It is interesting to note that the production patterns of millet throughout India’s history are lopsided. After Independence, production of millets was around 2000 tonnes per year (2113 tonnes in 1950-51 to 1954-55), which gradually decreased with consequent years and further fell to new lows after the Green Revolution; from 1962 tonnes in 1960-61 to 1964-65, to 931 tonnes in 1990-91 to 1994-95; which was almost a 100% dip in production. In the last five-year cycle, 2014-15 to 2018-19, the production was a meagre 413 tonnes.
INDIA'S PRODUCTION TRAJECTORY -
Millets are categorized into two types - Major and Minor. In this section, the state-wise production of major millets such as Sorghum and Bajra will be analyzed.
Rajasthan has been the largest producer of Pearl Millet or ‘Bajra’. From 2017-20, a drastic jump has been witnessed in the production and yield of Bajra in the state which insinuates at a near to optimum utilization of the state’s land resources.
The production was negligible between 2017-18, but it spurted to 4,685 tonnes in 2019-20 from 3,808 tonnes in the preceding year, marking a phenomenal growth of 18%. The yield per hectare also rose to 1,093 kg, recording an increase of almost 16% compared to the 2018-19 period. Rajasthan with its semi-arid climate favours the cultivation of these cereals, hence the exponential growth.
It is followed by the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh which has also measured an 8% increase in the production of Bajra in 2019-20. Maharashtra has also reflected spiraling production and yield of Bajra in the same period although it's nowhere near to aforementioned states.
Cumulatively, all India production stood at 10,362 tonnes in 2019-20. Turning to Sorghum (Jowar), Maharashtra is at the forefront in production with a mammoth 51% increase from 2018-19. The area under cultivation has also swelled which is a good omen for the millet industry of India.
The leading state is followed by the warmest Indian state Rajasthan which doesn't showcase a spiralling up of production and yield and has rather maintained decent numbers with the production of 455 tonnes of Jowar in 2019-20. The yield per hectare has unfortunately seen a decline but it might not be of a big concern. But the all-India area under cultivation of Jowar has reduced from 6,077 hectares in 2015 to 4,823 hectares in 2019-20 which means depletion of 20%. Moreover, the production between 2015-20 has been very sporadic. This proves that India needs to vivify its lost capacity to produce Jowar in the coming years.
The third major millet produced in India is Finger Millet or Ragi. Karnataka seems to be the only state producing a decent amount of Ragi which stood at 1,164 tonnes in 2019-20. The yield per hectare is the highlight which has soared by 20% between 2016-2020. All India's production of Ragi has been ranging between 1,400-1,900 tonnes in the same period.
UNTAPPED EXPORT POTENTIAL
The potential of the industry, on a whole, remains untapped. With no proper incentives, the operational costs remained high, reducing exports. The export value growth year-on-year fell from 30.79 percent in 2010 to -17.03 percent in 2011 and has been recorded to be around 4.82 percent in the last fiscal year.
India’s share of millet exports is now fifth in the world and APEDA aims to take it to the top three countries in the world in the next two years. This exponential increase in forecasts can be partly attributed to the declaration of the International Year of Millets by the United Nations.
On a global scale, the developing countries of Africa and Asia, are the world’s largest millet producing nations. India topped the global standings in millet production in the 2014-2018 cycle. It is interesting to note that there 8 African nations in the world’s top 10 list, Niger at second with a production of 3,856,344 MT, followed by Sudan (2,647,000 MT), Nigeria (2,240,744 MT), Mali (1,840,321 MT), Burkina Faso (1,189,079 MT), Ethiopia (982,958), Chad (756,616) and Senegal (574,000).
The income from export trade in millets is huge; India’s millet export trade stood at $26.97 million. However, very few African nations feature in the top 10 millet exporting countries. With demand set to grow exponentially in the coming years (trends indicating 85% rise in global millet trade y-o-y, from $400 million in 2020 to $470 million in 2021), the millet producing nations of the global south must devise ways to utilise the vast export potential that stays untapped. India is undoubtedly leading the way.
With massive potential in store, India needs to accelerate its export market, creating a triumvirate profit base–where the farmers, traders and consumers benefit from the transaction. Millet trade should have a larger share in net agriculture production and must be given prime importance; the sector has huge potential to help India, realise the much anticipated 5 trillion economy faster.
The coming few years will be a golden opportunity for the developing nations, to grab the benefits of the impending global food and nutrition shifts, and mutually aid the rest of the world in ensuring food security.
MILLETS- THE FUTURE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURE
The importance of millet in diet and the scope of publicising the health benefits of millet has already been discussed in the previous sections. While health and agriculture are on one side of the plate, the other side remains the problem of a rapidly increasing human population that is set to touch 9 billion by 2040.
Currently, Food security is one of the major concerns of every nation. Alongside, over 4 million square kilometres of land is being degraded every year and 120,000 square kilometres are turned into deserts. This deadly combination of population explosion and desertification will leave nations to crumble if proper coping mechanisms do not materialise.
Millets offer a great alternative to other crops as they are pest resilient, require less water (low water requirement of 350 mm), have a long shelf life (approximately one year), and tolerate extreme heat conditions (42°C). The future, therefore, is considerably dependent on millet agriculture and consumption patterns.
Millets are the best source for establishing food security; an alternative to wheat and rice. Given that production of variegated millets in India is on a rise, it's equally important for the common people to make space for the same in their daily diet. If expediting production does not match domestic demand, then the gains emanating from the same would be lost. When it comes to food, the paramount factor involved is ‘taste’. And millets are avoided for the very same reason.
Hence, the Indian government should make its promotion of millets inclusive by urging foodies and eminent chefs to experiment and invent new millets-based dishes and popularize them through social media platforms. While our country has fulfilled people's caloric needs: thorough wheat and rice, it is time for India to take a next leap in its food security: by also fulfilling people's nutritional needs.
And, it's high time that the world acknowledges the various benefits of millets and begins to materialise, what one can call a ‘Millet Revolution’; through which the entire landscape of food and nutritional security, environmental concerns, and health issues can be sensibly addressed.
BY JNANITA AND ABHINAV