Millets: A sustainable way to achieve food and nutritional security among the tribal farmers of Jharkhand
The face of Indian agriculture is fast changing with the advent of improved farming technologies. The main challenge stands to maintain the balance between the changing environmental conditions coupled with changed food habit and ever increasing number of people waiting for minimum two meals a day. The changing environmental conditions, typically characterized by irregular and erratic rainfall, increase in average temperature and other conditions pose a serious threat to the Indian agriculture to meet the ever increasing demand for food of the Indian population. The resource poor small and marginal farmers in general and dryland tribal farmers in particular have suffered most due to changing climatic conditions and its impact on Indian agriculture.
Millets are one of the most ancient foodgrain known to be cultivated in the history of mankind. Millets, also regarded as “Nutri-cereals” are climate resilient crops which perform better than the traditional foodgrain crops like paddy and wheat under marginal conditions of soil and water. Millets are groups of cereal food grain crops which are small seeded, adapted to cultivation over a range of tropical and subtropical climates, can be grown with very low inputs. Major millet crops include sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) or great millet, pearl millet (Pennisetum typhoides), finger millet (Eleusine coracana), foxtail millet (Setaria italica) or Italian millet or German millet, Teff (Eragrostis tef), Proso millet (Panicum miliaceum) or broomcorn millet or common millet, little millet (Panicum miliare), fonio (Digitaria exilis), barnyard millet (Echinochloa frumentacea), kodo millet (Paspalum scrobiculatum) and brown top millet (Brachiaria ramosum).
Millets are grown for food, feed and forage across Asia, Africa, North America, Australia and parts of Europe. Millets possess unique nutritional characteristics specifically have complex carbohydrates, rich in dietary fibre as well as unique in phenolic compounds and phytochemicals having medicinal properties. Millets are natural source of iron, zinc, calcium and other nutrients that are essential for curbing the problem of malnutrition in India. Epidemiological studies have shown that diets rich in plant foods, including whole grains are protective against the non-communicable diseases like Diabetes, Cancer and cardiovascular diseases, due to protective effects of health promoting phytonutrients. They are non-acid forming and hence easy to digest and are also non-allergenic. It is well recognized that, the incidence of diabetes mellitus and gastro-intestinal tract related disorders are minimal among the population using these grains as staple food. The below figure depicts the area, production and yield of millets in India during 2014-15.
Figure 1: Area, production and yield of millets in India during 2014-15
Despite all the nutritional benefits of millets, there has been a drastic reduction in the consumption of millets in India. The main reasons for decline of the millets crops in India are low remuneration as compared to other competing crops, lack of input subsidies and price incentives, subsidized supply of fine cereals through PDS, and change in the consumer preferences (NAAS, 2013). These factors had led to shift from production of millets (jowar in particular) to other competing crops such as soybean, maize, cotton, sugarcane and sunflower in the country as a whole.
Millets, once staple food crops in the country, has become the “forgotten grains” mainly due to changes in tastes and preferences of the consumers. There is also a lack of policy support from the government side to promote the production, processing, marketing and consumption of these highly nutritious and climate resilient crops. This has led to a significant fall in the production and consumption of millets in the country. The following table gives a comparative picture on the nutritional superiority of millets over rice and wheat.
Table 1: Nutritive value of millets vis-a-vis other cereals (per 100g @ 12% moisture)
Source: Indian Food Composition Tables, NIN – 2017; *Nutritive value of Indian Foods, NIN – 2007; #USDA 2016 http://ndb.nal.usda.gov
It is also a matter of fact the millets are naturally organic products in India, i. e., the millets growers cultivate the millets without any application of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides or any other chemicals. This is due to the fact that the millets are highly resilient to climatic conditions as well as pest and diseases. The tribal population of Jharkhand as well as India suffer a lot due to lack of irrigation facilities, reduced fertility of cultivable lands, increased pest and disease incidences in traditional staple food crops like paddy and wheat. This causes severe impact on the agricultural production and food-nutritional security of the country. Thus incorporation of the climate resilient “Nutri-cereals” or the millets in the existing tribal farming systems in Jharkhand and other parts of the country will significantly add to the food and nutritional security of the rural people. Incorporation of millets in the dryland farming system will also help in reaping at least one crop a year, when all other crops may fail due to lack of irrigation water. This may also lead to substantial rise in the farmers’ income in the dryland parts of the country. Thus inclusion of millets like finger millet (Maduwa) in the farming system in tribal areas of Jharkhand may open up a sustainable way to achieve the food and nutritional security for the poorest of the poor.
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BY- Dr. Deep Narayan Mukherjee1 and Dr. B Dayakar Rao2
1. Assistant Professor, F/C: IRTDM, RKMVERI, Ranchi.
2. Principal Scientist, ICAR-Indian Institute of Millets Research, Hyderabad, Telangana