Enlarging the Food Basket with Millets : Prof M S Swaminathan

A Millet lunch on display from the farmers of Kolli Hills, Tamil Nadu

Chennai, July 13, 2015: A recent media report indicates that the acreage under Ragi and millets is likely to go up substantially in Karnataka as well as in several other states. Remunerative pricing and effective procurement are the keys to revive interest in such crops. The Karnataka government has procured over 1 lakh tonnes of Ragi at Rs. 2000 per quintal. Farmers will produce more if procurement and consumption go up. From 1992 onwards, MSSRF has been working in Kolli Hills in Tamil Nadu as well as in Koraput in Odisha trying to promote the conservation of a wide range of minor millets through opportunities for commercialisation. The Food Security Act 2013 also includes millets like ragi, jowar, bajra etc in the food basket under the PDS. It is now known that such millets are not only nutritious but are also climate smart in the sense that they are more resilient to rainfall distribution. In order to ensure that these nutritious and climate resilient crops are again cultivated on a large scale in dry farming areas we should ensure that they have a market. Fortunately, many food processing companies are coming up based on ragi, bajra, jowar and a range of minor millets. We need to ensure that both under the Food Security Act and school meal programme, there is sufficient off take of nutritious millets. Also, government should change the practice of referring to such crops as “coarse grains”. They should be referred to as “climate smart nutri-millets”. Also we should propose to the United Nations to declare one year of this decade as International Year of Underutilised and Biofortified Crops. Next year is the International Year of Pulses, and pulses are also climate smart and protein rich. Through suitable policy support for the cultivation and consumption of such crops, it should be possible to erase the image of our country as one with the largest number of malnourished children and women.

 Another urgent requirement is greater investment in research on these “orphan crops”, so that the yield potential is substantially enhanced. Both higher yield and assured marketing will increase the attractiveness of these crops to small farmers.