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The Resurgence of Millets in the Indian Diet

2023 has been marked as the International Year of Millets, an initiative championed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and supported by the United Nations. This global movement underscores the vital role of millets in sustainable agriculture and positions them as a smart and superfood for the future.

Historical Context of Millet Cultivation in India

What is Millet?

Millets are a group of highly variable small-seeded grasses, widely grown for both human food and fodder. Unlike most cereals, millets are rich in fiber and gluten-free, making them a significant food source in arid and semi-arid regions. They are well-adapted to challenging growing conditions, including poor soil fertility and drought.

There are several types of millets, which include:

Pearl Millet (Bajra): The most widely grown type of millet.

Finger Millet (Ragi or Mandua): Noted for its high calcium content.

Foxtail Millet (Kangni or Italian millet): Rich in dietary fiber, energy, and minerals.

Proso Millet (Barri): Used both for human consumption and as fodder.

Sorghum (Jowar): Often considered a type of millet, used for similar purposes.

Millets like jowar (sorghum), bajra (pearl millet), and ragi (finger millet) were staples in many parts of India, revered for their drought-resistant qualities and ability to thrive in less fertile soils.

However, the advent of the Green Revolution in the 1960s marked a significant shift.

This period, characterised by the introduction of high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice, extensive use of chemical fertilisers and irrigation methods, dramatically altered India's agricultural landscape. The focus shifted towards these cereals, which were seen as more profitable and productive. Consequently, millet cultivation suffered a decline as farmers and agricultural policies favoured wheat and rice.

The Current Revival of Millets

In recent years, we have witnessed a remarkable resurgence of millets in the Indian diet. This revival is driven by several factors:

Government Initiatives: Recognizing the nutritional value and environmental benefits of millets, the Indian government has taken significant steps to promote their cultivation and consumption. The declaration of 2023 as the 'International Year of Millets' by the United Nations, spearheaded by India, is a testament to these efforts.A song on millets featuring PM Modi gets Grammy nomination.

Changing Consumer Trends: There is a growing awareness among consumers about health and nutrition. Millets, with their high fibre content, gluten-free nature, and low glycemic index, have become appealing to health-conscious individuals.

Sustainable Agriculture: Millets require less water and can grow in poorer soil conditions compared to rice and wheat. This makes them an attractive option in the face of climate change and water scarcity.

Nutritional Benefits of Millets

Millets are nutrition powerhouses. They offer numerous health benefits:

Rich in Fibre: Millets aid in digestion and help in maintaining a healthy gut.

High in Protein: They are a good source of plant-based protein, essential for muscle building and repair.

Gluten-Free: Millets are an excellent dietary choice for those with gluten intolerance or celiac disease.

Rich in Vitamins and Minerals: These grains are loaded with nutrients like iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and B vitamins.

Compared to rice and wheat, millets have a lower glycemic index, making them beneficial for managing blood sugar levels. With 11% of the Indian population being diabetic, millets could play a crucial role.

Cultural Significance Of Millets

Millets have always held a special place in Indian culture and cuisine. They are integral to various traditional dishes across the country. For instance, ragi is a staple in Karnataka, used in dishes like ragi mudde and ragi roti. Bajra is popular in Rajasthan and Gujarat, known for bajra roti and khichdi. Rang De also supports millet farmers through its Impact Partners. Svad Organic,  a retail subsidiary of Sittilingi Organic Farmers Association has been promoting organic farm products like millets, turmeric etc. Swachh Kaadyam, a FPO supports millet farmers in Andhra Pradesh.

Future Outlook for Millets

The future of millet cultivation and consumption in India looks promising. With increasing support from the government, a shift in consumer preferences towards healthier diets, and the need for sustainable agricultural practices, millets are poised to play a significant role in India's food security and nutritional needs.

In conclusion, the resurgence of millets is a positive step towards embracing our agrarian heritage, enhancing nutritional security, and promoting sustainable agriculture.

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1 Comment

Unknown member
Dec 12, 2023

Thank you Mr Seemon for an informative article, another one for my "Keep" folder as it has hyperlinks to a lot of information.

I was unaware of one of the positives of millets, that they are Gluten-free. I have a granddaughter and friend who are Gluten sensitive, so I witness their frequent search for Gluten-free breads.

Hopefully some enterprising baker will put her/his mind to creating one. May be not a traditional loaf, but a flat bread which is becoming popular here in America.

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