I was recently invited to be part of a unique initiative by the Government of Karnataka when they organized a Media Information Workshop as a curtain raiser to a new campaign to popularize millets. Held at The Green Path, an organic way of life started by Mr. Jayaram, this session was chaired by Hon’ble Minister of Agriculture, Government of Karnataka, Mr.Krishna Byre Gowda.
The UN has identified the need for Sustainable Diets which they define as “diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutritional security…”, and believes that it is essential to set targets to strive towards this. Millets are important for accomplishing this vision, since they offer greater nutritional and environmental value, it is essential to mainstream more into our diets. The minister highlighted that millets are Smart Foods as they fulfill three criteria namely:
Good for you
India has the second highest incidence of diabetes in the world today second only to China. One of the best ways to prevent diabetes is to incorporate more and more millets into your daily diet. It not just prevents diabetes but also has micro nutrients like zinc and iron and are fairly high in protein and calcium apart from nutrients required in daily nutrition. Unhealthy eating habits and increased reliance on rice is causing a lot of unhealthy eating practices. Millets are as good as and even better than quinoa that is being pushed into our diets today. Millets have been grown in our country for millennia and it is time to get back to it. They score very high in nutritional value and are remedies to many health problems (iron, zinc, folic acid, calcium… Contain diabetes).
Good for the planet
Millets have the smallest ecological footprint as far as any crop is concerned as they consume far less water. Rice needs 75% more water than millets. And considering that water is such a scare resource , millets are an important aspect of today’s climate change scenario. Millets are naturally organic and need very less fertilisers. No millet crop requires any chemical spray and hence it is very safe to consume. Likewise millets are the last crop standing in a drought. Since they require low water and fertilisers, they have a low ecological footprint, mostly organic, are able to survive in the hottest-driest climates and best options to cope with climate change.
Good for the farmer
Millets grow in the most arduous of conditions with little water and need of fertilisers. Being low intensive crops they are easy to grow. Millets fodder is the highest nutritious folder for livestock. No part of the millet is wasted and is excellent folder for milking cows. Fodder from one acre has 4-5 tonnes of fodder. They grow in half the time as required for wheat. They are not affected by changes in weather and can grow when it is hot and even cold as they are climate resilient. Yields have not yet reached a plateau and generally can be increased up to 3 fold with low cost, have multiple uses (food, fodder, fuel), and are typically the last crop standing in times of drought (good risk management option for farmers). There is large gap between our current appreciation and potential benefits of millets on health, nutritional and environmental. Foods like quinoa, oats are highlighted more in this context. Whereas millets are far superior to these on all counts. More importantly, millets are grown locally and benefit our farmers directly.
The Ministry of Agriculture along with organisations in allied sectors as well as in collaboration with National and International research institutes has initiated several innovative programs to popularise millet production and consumption. Further, the Government has also introduced millets in Public Distribution System (PDS). The Government is also working to develop and drive demand for millets. “We understand and appreciate contemporary trends in social habits towards healthy diets and lifestyles. We believe this is a great mutual opportunity for, and complementary between millets and contemporary consumers. This requires placement of millets in contemporary context and generation of a buzz about them. Developing and popularising consumer products to suit current palettes is also a key requirement,” said the Minister
A demand-pull approach is being done by the Government. “We are striving for consumer awareness on nutritional, environmental benefits and contemporary cuisine of millets. Efforts are on to put in place supporting environment with backward and forward linkages and developments along the whole value chain to benefit farmers, processors and consumers. This can lead to better profits, more efficient use of our scarce natural resources and healthier diets with millets,” said Mr. Gowda.
In order to popularize millers among the public, a millet mela will be held regularly. This will be held across locations once in two months in different places in Bangalore. “We will also do an activity with health practitioners soon. Millers are good for you, for farmers as well as for the environment. This is why we call them smart food,” said Mr. Gowda.
Likewise, when one says ragi, it is ragi mudde that comes into mind or jowar is associated with jowar roti. And with the plethora of traditional millets being consumed in traditional forms only, the challenge is to use them in contemporary forms. This is where chefs are doing things differently in adapting millets to everything from muffins to cereals and everything. They make amazing breads, pizza and more.
India and Karnataka can take the lead in millet production. After India, Africa grows a lot of bajra, ragi and jowar and interestingly there is the same trend with an increase in rice and maize in Africa. Millets are seen as old fashioned and the whole value chain is not developed which makes marketing a challenge. Abroad there is very low level of awareness of millets which is being sought to be changed.
Millets have high mineral and protein and are great substitute for other grains we use regularly. The following infographic from Organic Facts clearly shows the health benefits of millets:
We need to have zero hunger and ensure that the food we eat has nutrition. So you need good nutrients found in millets in the form of iron, calcium, zinc and proteins. The challenge is to make this easily available in terms of the supply factor.
- Ragi has 3 times more calcium than milk.
- They are high in proteins.
- Millets are a good source of magnesium.
- Millets help lower Type 2 Diabetes risk.
- Phosphorous in millets help each and every cell in the body.
- Being high in fibre, millets help prevention of gall stones.
Stay tuned the next blog post is on millet recipes!