India prizes millets for food security and exports to Africa

By Mahua Venkatesh

New Delhi, Jul 15 (IANS): India is gradually increasing its focus on millet farming as awareness and demand have grown significantly in the last couple of years.

Though the country is the world's largest millet producer, these humble short grains have received little attention until now. More importantly, millets are drought resistant and can be produced in dryland.

Amid rising concerns over food security have risen amid the Covid 19 pandemic, millets can play an important role in the food supply chain, an agriculture economist told India Narrative.

Africa accounts for about 40 per cent of global millet consumption.

According toAgri Exchange, millets play an important role in food security and economy of many countries in Africa and Asia but they represent less than 2 per cent of world cereal utilization. It also said that until recently, millets have received less attention than other major cereals including wheat and rice.

The per capita food consumption of millet is highest in Africa, where millet is a key food staple in the drier regions. Millet represents about 75 percent of total cereal food consumption in Niger and over 30 per cent in most other countries in the Sahel-- a group of five countries in West Africa which have come together to focus on issues related to economic development and security.

"Finally, awareness is building around millets, especially as India is becoming more health conscious with the Covid 19 pandemic," Indian Millets Association's project director P Venkatesham Gupta told India Narrative.

However, he added that a lot more needs to be done both by the public as well as the private sector to further promote millets, which are gluten-free and have hypoglycemic properties.

"Other cereals require adequate water, so a lot depends on monsoons but millets do not require too much water and can easily grow in dry land," Gupta said.

APEDA is also preparing an action plan for increasing exports of millets and millet products for a period five years -- 2021-2026 "to enable all concerned stakeholders for taking necessary action in a time bound manner for achieving the target," a government statement said.

Further, efforts would be made on identification of millet clusters, creation of a platform to consolidate farmers, farmer producer organisations (FPO), exporters, associations, other stakeholders and identification of new potential international markets for promotion of Indian millets.

Meanwhile, the UN General Assembly, which adopted a consensus resolution sponsored by India, declared the year 2023 as the International Year of Millets.

The Hindu in a report earlier noted that the Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR) underlined the need to increase the production of millets by at least 40 per cent as demand for them in the Indian diet is on a constant rise.

"Several farm research organisations are working on crop improvement and fortification methods. Interestingly, 14 States in the country are currently on a mission to cultivate millets incrementally. These national and State-level initiatives will bring a significant amount of millet cultivation back to farms and fields," the newspaper quoted Tonapi as saying.



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