Tasks for India’s millet revolution | 31st January 2023 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It discusses the current status of millets production and consumption in India. It also suggests ways to improve both.


  • GS2: Issues relating Health, Poverty and Hunger;
  • GS3: Cropping Patterns in various parts of the country; Issues of Buffer Stocks and Food Security;
  • Essay;
  • Prelims


  • The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets.
  • Millets have special nutritive properties (they are high in protein, dietary fibre, micronutrients and antioxidants) and special agronomic characteristics (drought-resistant and suitable for semi-arid regions).
  • In this article, we will discuss the constraints to increased millet cultivation and consumption.

What are millets?

  • Millets are coarse grains that are traditionally grown and consumed in the Indian subcontinent for over 5000 years.
  • Unlike other cereals, millets require little water and ground fertility.
  • Two groups of millets are grown in India:
    • Major millets include sorghum (Jowar), pearl millet (Bajra) and finger millet (Ragi),
    • while minor millets include foxtail, little millet (Suan/Samai), kodo, proso, and barnyard millet.

Constraints to consumption and production:

  • Low offtake of millets through the Public Distribution System (PDS), Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and school meals. They are entirely focused on the cereals such as wheat and rice.
  • Now if about 20% of rice and wheat were to be replaced by millet, the state would have to procure 10.8 million tonnes of millet. This is another constraint
  • Low production of millets is a major constraint.
  • Other constraints include, first, the decline in the area under millet cultivation, and, second, the low productivity of millets.
  • Over the last decade, the production of sorghum (jowar) has fallen,the production of pearl millet (bajra) has stagnated,and the production of other millets, including finger millet (ragi), has stagnated or declined.

The Kolli Hills case study:

  • The M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) is conducting an experiment to address the aforementioned constraints.
  • This experiment is quite successful in achieving the goals of enhanced production as well as consumption.
  • The Kolli hills block of Namakkal district, the project area, is a distinct geographic and agro-ecological region of the Eastern Ghats, populated by income-poor Scheduled Tribe households.
  • This project had three objectives
    • to preserve crop diversity in local millet varieties;
    • to increase production and the consumption of millets, and
    • to enhance farm incomes.
  • The project intervened in three areas:
    • First, yield enhancement was attempted, using a combination of participatory varietal trials for improved seeds, new agronomic practices, and new technology.
      • Community seed banks were designed and constructed to conserve, restore, revive, strengthen, and improve local seed systems.
    • Second, customised post-harvest machinery (pulverisers and dehullers) was introduced.
      • Hand-pounding millet by women for an hour yielded 2 kg-3 kg of grain (all millets other than finger millet have a hard seed coat that requires abrasive force to remove the starch from the seed coat).
      • The introduction of small-scale localised mechanical milling, operated by self-help groups, was a game-changer.
    • The third major initiative was training.
      • The Kolli Hills Agrobiodiversity Conservers’ Federation (KHABCOFED) was formed to oversee all activities towards training and value-addition.
      • Ready-to-cook products were branded under the Kolli Hills Natural Foods label and market links established.
      • Net returns from value-added products were five to 10 times higher than from grain: a kilogram of little millet rice sold for ₹7, a kilogram of millet upma sells for ₹41.

Way Forward:

  • In conclusion, increasing the production of millets and reversing the decline in area cultivated are feasible steps but not easy, and require multiple interventions including scientific inputs, institutional mechanisms, financial incentives and in-kind support.
  • The Government of India and State governments, notably Karnataka and Odisha, have initiated Millet Missions.
  • These policies are welcome, but unless we pay attention to the economics of millet cultivation, we face a losing battle against more profitable alternatives.

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