How India Became the World’s Largest Producer of Millets
Millets are small-seeded grains that belong to the grass family and are cultivated in various parts of the world, especially in Asia and Africa. They are highly nutritious, drought-tolerant, and climate-resilient crops that can grow in harsh conditions where other cereals fail. Millets have been a staple food for millions of people for centuries, providing them with energy, protein, fiber, minerals, and vitamins. Millets also have several health benefits, such as lowering blood sugar and cholesterol levels, preventing diabetes and obesity, and enhancing immunity.
In this article, we will explore how India became the world’s largest producer of millets, what are the different types of millets grown in India, what are the challenges and opportunities for millet production and consumption in India, and what are the initiatives taken by the government and other stakeholders to promote millets as a smart food for the future.
India’s Millet Production Scenario
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), India produced 10.3 million tonnes of millets in 2020, accounting for about 41% of the global millet production of 25.1 million tonnes. India’s two varieties of millets, namely pearl millet (bajra) and sorghum (jowar), together contributed about 19% of the world production in 2020. India also grows other types of millets, such as finger millet (ragi), foxtail millet (kangni), little millet (kutki), proso millet (barri), barnyard millet (sanwa), and kodo millet (kodon).
India has a long history of cultivating millets, dating back to at least 5000 years ago. Millets were widely grown in different regions of India, such as Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, and Himachal Pradesh. Millets were also an integral part of the Indian culture and cuisine, as they were used to make various dishes, such as rotis, khichdi, dosa, idli, upma, porridge, laddu, halwa, payasam, etc.
However, in the post-independence era, India witnessed a decline in millet production and consumption due to several factors, such as:
- The Green Revolution that focused on increasing the yield of rice and wheat through improved seeds, irrigation, fertilizers, and pesticides.
- The Public Distribution System (PDS) that subsidized rice and wheat for the poor consumers but excluded millets from its coverage.
- The changing consumer preferences and lifestyles that favored refined cereals over coarse grains.
- The lack of awareness and appreciation of the nutritional and ecological value of millets among the farmers and consumers.
- The low profitability and productivity of millet cultivation due to inadequate research and development support, market linkages, value addition, processing facilities,
and policy incentives.
As a result of these factors, India’s millet area declined from 36.9 million hectares in 1966-67 to 14.7 million hectares in 2016-17. Similarly,
India’s millet production declined from 18.5 million tonnes in 1966-67 to 10.3 million tonnes in 2016-17. The per capita consumption of millets also dropped from 32.9 kg per year in 1961 to 5.3 kg per year in 2011.
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India’s Millet Revival Efforts
However, in recent years, India has witnessed a resurgence of interest in millets among various stakeholders, such as farmers, consumers, researchers, entrepreneurs, civil society organizations, and policymakers. This is due to several reasons, such as:
- The growing recognition of the nutritional and health benefits of millets, especially in combating malnutrition, obesity, diabetes, and other lifestyle diseases.
- The increasing awareness of the environmental and climate benefits of millets, such as saving water, enhancing soil fertility, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and increasing biodiversity.
- The rising demand for organic, gluten-free, and high-fiber foods among urban consumers who are looking for healthy alternatives to refined cereals.
- The emergence of innovative products, brands, and platforms that are making millets more accessible, affordable, and attractive to consumers.
- The support from various government schemes, policies, and programs that are promoting millet cultivation, procurement, distribution, and consumption.
Some of the notable initiatives taken by the Indian government to revive millets are:
- Declaring 2018 as the National Year of Millets and 2023 as the International Year of Millets to raise awareness and appreciation of millets among the public.
- Including millets in the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and the PDS to ensure their availability and affordability for the poor consumers.
- Launching the Millet Mission in 2017 to increase the area, production, and productivity of millets in 14 states through improved seeds, inputs, extension, and marketing support.
- Introducing the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for millets to ensure remunerative prices for the farmers and encourage them to grow more millets.
- Establishing the Indian Institute of Millet Research (IIMR) in Hyderabad to conduct research and development on various aspects of millet improvement, production, processing, and utilization.
- Organizing various events, campaigns, and festivals to showcase and celebrate the diversity and richness of millet foods and cultures.
India’s Millet Future Prospects
India has a huge potential to increase its millet production and consumption in the coming years. According to a study by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), India can increase its millet area by 25% and its millet production by 40% by 2025. This can be achieved by adopting improved varieties, best practices, and technologies that can enhance the yield and quality of millets. India can also tap into the growing domestic and global markets for millets by developing value-added products, brands, and networks that can cater to the diverse needs and preferences of consumers. India can also leverage its rich heritage and expertise in millets to become a global leader and champion of millets as a smart food for the future.
To conclude, India has a long and glorious history of growing and consuming millets. Millets are not only a source of food security and nutrition for millions of people, but also a source of livelihood and resilience for millions of farmers. Millets are also a source of ecological sustainability and climate adaptation for millions of hectares of land. Millets are truly a wonder crop that can address multiple challenges and opportunities in the 21st century. India has taken several steps to revive its millet glory and has achieved remarkable results. However, there is still a long way to go to realize the full potential of millets in India. It requires a collective effort from all stakeholders to make millets a mainstream crop in India and a smart food for the world.
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India: The World’s Largest Producer of Millets
India is the world’s largest producer of millets, a group of small-seeded grasses that are widely grown as cereal crops or grains for human food and animal fodder. Millets are important crops in the semiarid and arid regions of Asia and Africa, where they are adapted to drought and high-temperature conditions. Millets are also rich in nutrients, gluten-free, and have a low glycemic index, making them suitable for people with diabetes and celiac disease.
According to the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), India produced 18.5 million tonnes of millets in 2019-20, accounting for about 40% of the global production of 46.4 million tonnes. India’s two main varieties of millets are pearl millet (bajra) and sorghum (jowar), which together contributed about 19% of the world production in 2020. India also grows other types of millets, such as finger millet (ragi), foxtail millet (kangni), proso millet (barri), little millet (kutki), barnyard millet (sanwa), and kodo millet (kodon).
Millets have been cultivated in India for thousands of years and have been a staple food for many communities. However, in recent decades, the consumption of millets has declined due to changing food preferences, urbanization, and availability of cheaper alternatives. Millets have also been neglected by the government policies and research, resulting in low productivity and profitability for the farmers. To revive the interest and demand for millets, various initiatives have been taken by the government, civil society organizations, farmers’ groups, and entrepreneurs. These include promoting millets as nutri-cereals, providing subsidies and incentives for millet cultivation, developing improved varieties and processing technologies, creating awareness and markets for millet products, and celebrating National Millet Day on January 18.
Global Demand for Millets: Trends and Opportunities
The global demand for millets is expected to grow in the coming years due to several factors. First, the increasing population and income levels in developing countries, especially in Africa and Asia, will create a higher demand for food grains, especially those that are affordable, nutritious, and resilient to climate change. Second, the rising awareness and preference for healthy, organic, and gluten-free foods among consumers in developed countries will boost the demand for millets as alternative grains. Third, the growing interest and investment in biofuels and animal feed will also increase the demand for millets as raw materials.
According to a report by Research and Markets, the global millet market was valued at USD 9.8 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach USD 14.6 billion by 2025, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.8%. The report identifies India, China, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Ethiopia, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Chad, Senegal, France, Russia, Ukraine, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, and the US as the major producers and consumers of millets. The report also highlights the key drivers, challenges, opportunities, trends, and strategies for the global millet market.
Some of the opportunities for increasing the global demand for millets are:
- Developing new products and value-added products from millets that cater to different segments of consumers
- Expanding the distribution channels and market access for millet products through e-commerce platforms
- Creating awareness campaigns and branding strategies to promote the benefits of millets
- Establishing partnerships and collaborations among stakeholders across the value chain
- Enhancing the quality standards and certification systems for millet products
- Supporting research and innovation on improving the yield and quality of millets
- Advocating for favorable policies and regulations that support the production and consumption of millets
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