Fight malnutrition by growing millets
A new report by National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS) reveals that despite the nutritional value of millets, otherwise known as coarse cereals*, there has been a drastic reduction in the area under its cultivation from 36.34 million hectares in 1955-56 to 18.6 million hectares in 2011-12 thanks to the wrong agricultural and price policies adopted by the Government (see table 1, and the links below). Based on previous National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB) surveys, the report entitled 'Role of Millets in Nutritional Security of India' guesstimates that sharp reduction in the intake of iron and calcium since mid-1990s is due to the declining trends in the production and consumption of millets.
As per the NAAS report, an entire gamut of factors are responsible for decline in the area under cultivation of millets such as low remuneration as compared to other food crops, lack of input subsidies and price incentives, subsidized supply of fine cereals through Public Distribution System (PDS), and change in consumer preference (difficulty in processing, low shelf-life of flour and low social status attached to millets). Nearly 50 percent area under millets has been diverted largely to soybean, maize, cotton, sugarcane and sunflower, says the report.
Although yield of millets has almost trebled from 387 kg per hectare in 1955-56 to 1096 kg per hectare in 2011-12, it could raise the overall production marginally from 14.07 million tonnes in 1955-56 to 18.63 million tonnes in 2011-12 (see table 1).
It is surprising that India, which will completely fail to reach the Target 2 of the MDG-1 i.e. halving, between 1990 & 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger, has been unable to reap the benefits of millets, which are otherwise known as nutri-grains since they are rich in micronutrients like minerals and B-complex vitamins as well as health promoting phyto-chemicals. The present report gives the nutritional value of various types of millet such as pearl millet (bajra), which has the highest content of macronutrients, and micronutrients such as iron, zinc, Mg, P, folic acid and riboflavin. The reader of this report is informed that finger millet (ragi) is an extraordinary source of calcium.
Apart from providing nutrition, the report mentions that there are several advantages associated with cultivating millets for example: drought tolerance, crop sturdiness, short to medium duration, low labour requirement, minimal purchased inputs, resistance to pests and diseases. Millets are C4 crops and hence are climate change compliant. Millet cultivation is the mainstay of rain-fed farming on which 60 percent of Indian farmers depend. Millets sequestrate carbon and thereby reduce the burden of green house gas.
The NAAS report recommends that the demand for millets can be increased by: (i) Creating awareness regarding their environmental sustainability, nutritional and other health benefits, (ii) Making them available through PDS, (iii) Value addition, and (iv) Inclusion under feeding programmes like mid-day meal, Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) feeding, and adolescent girls nutrition scheme (now under consideration of Ministry of Women and Child Welfare).
* Coarse cereals=Jowar+Bajra+Maize+Ragi+Small Millets+Barley
Role of Millets in Nutritional Security of India (2013) by Mahtab Bamji et al, National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, December, http://www.im4change.org/siteadmin/http://www.im4change.or
Millennium Development Goals: India Country Report 2014, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, GoI, http://www.im4change.org/docs/242mdg_2014.pdf
The Poor Man's Rich Grain, http://www.im4change.org/news-alerts/the-poor-mans-rich-gr
Has Green Revolution failed India's poor?, http://www.im4change.org/blog/has-green-revolution-failed-
Include Rain-fed farming in Agriculture Policy, http://www.im4change.org/news-alerts/include-rain-fed-farm
The Economic Survey 2012-13, http://indiabudget.nic.in/es2012-13/echap-08.pdf
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