Millets: The future crop of India

In order to establish the fact that Millets really are the future crop of the country, a couple of things must be looked at. This article, therefore, arrives at the answer to the heading by exploring Millets through a number of different headers-

  1. Introduction
  2. What makes Millets special?
  3. Worldwide production & availability
  4. Nutritional information
  5. Health benefits of using millets
  6. The business angle
  7. The way forward

By exploring these topics in a somewhat detailed manner, it would be easier to support the fact that Millets truly are the crops of the future.

Introduction

Millet is the term given to a collective group of small-seeded grass (Poaceae, which is the scientific term for grass) that primarily grows in developing countries like India, Niger, Mali and Nigeria. Being one of the earliest cultivated crops, millets was primarily considered to be a major ingredient in bird seeds, but it is interesting to note that millets have been used in making beer, flatbreads, porridges and other fermented beverages for many years now.

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Some of the most popularly cultivated millets and their scientific names are listed down below-

  • Finger millet (Eleusine coracana)
  • Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum)
  • Foxtail millet (Setaria italica)
  • Little Millet (Panicum sumatrense)

The genus Echinochloa contains the Indian and Japanese barnyard millets. There are several other variants of millets, but these listed are the most popular. Millets are divided into two broad categories- major and minor. While the major brand contains the most popular millets like pearl, foxtail, finger (Ragi in India) and Proso (White millet); the minor branch contains the unpopular ones like barnyard, little, Guinea, fonio, Kodo to name a few. It is heartening to note that Millets has been positively accepted in almost all parts of the world, especially the developed countries and many are now adding millets in their day to day diet because of its advantages.

What makes millets special?

One of the best qualities of the crop is its extremely high tolerance for droughts. To highlight how little water is needed for rearing these plants, it is insightful to notice that whereas to grow one kilogram of rice, almost 5000 litres of water is required, the same quantity of millets requires only 250 to 300 litres at maximum. Millets are widely referred to as the climate-smart crop as it has the potential to combat the ongoing global climate crisis. In addition, millets grow well in the absence of pesticide and insecticide, and in the hands of the trained farmer, they require little to no input labour.

After harvesting, the remaining stalks can be used for animal fodder, and millets themselves are used as bird feeds as well. In fact, in developed nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom, millets were primarily used as bird feed before their miracle qualities caught the public eye. In recent years, a trend towards organic farming and alternatives to the already well-established grains have made millets as a favourite go-to grain for many. Millets can also be used as the raw material for biofuels. There are several studies that have been conducted on the same.

Worldwide production & availability

India currently leads the world in Millet production followed by the African countries of Nigeria and Niger. China is also present in the list as one of the leading producers, although it lags much behind India in this aspect. The figures shown here are for the year 2107. In India, as of 2018, the crop is grown in 21 states, and the states of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Kerala and Jharkhand give high importance to the growth of millets.

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Nutritional information

The image below compares the nutritional content of different kinds of Millet to Rice, Wheat and Quinoa, which are other crops widely consumed throughout the world. Raw Millet is composed of roughly 73% carbohydrates, 9% water, 11% protein and 4% fat, thereby making them low fat but high carb alternatives. Millets are rich in phenols, especially catechins and ferulic acid which act as antioxidants. Millets are also gluten-free, making them an ideal source of food for those inflicted by the celiac disease or for those who choose to eat gluten-free.

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Health benefits of using millets

With increasing obesity and stress in the upcoming population, millets serve as a cancelling factor for many of the diseases that develop because of obesity and stress. These claims are made only after years of testing with multiple test subjects within which the improvements were noticed.

  • Healthy heart: Being a good source of Magnesium, millets help keep the heart beating strong. Magnesium-rich foods help reduce the effects of asthma, and the frequency of migraine attacks.
  • Lowering the risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Another reason to have millets is their uncanny ability to reduce the risk of diabetes which can again be attributed to the high concentration of magnesium present in the grains.
  • Gallstone prevention: Consumption of fibre rich foods have shown to reduce the chances of gallbladder stones forming within the individual. It is speculated that fibre-rich foods pass through the intestines rapidly and also reduces the bile secretion, thereby decreasing the chances of stone formation.
  • Breast Cancer shield: Fibres are shown to reduce the instances of breast cancer among women who are pre-menopausal.

The Business Angle

A strong business plan is extremely important for the success of a product. So, it is highly essential that a stakeholder analysis should be done keeping in mind, Millets. The potential stakeholders in India with respect to Millets would be-

  • The farmers
  • The Governments (both Central and State)
  • Entrepreneurs (preferably in the organic product area)
  • Suppliers and Distributors
  • Retailers and Wholesalers
  • The customers (People who buy might be different from the end-user, the consumer)
  • The consumers (People who cook and eat the Millets)
  • Workers employed across the value chain

It has to be kept in mind that for Millets, the competitor would be wheat, rice and other widely available and used grain crops.

High power, high interest: These would be the farmers, as they have maximum involvement with maize. The customer, end consumer and Government belong in this category.

High power, low interest: Retailers, Suppliers, Wholesalers and Distributors who keep stock of competitor to Millets would belong in this category.

Low power, high interest: Entrepreneurs would belong in this category as when they are setting up a business; entrepreneurs don’t have much control over the external factors. 

Low power, low interest: This would comprise of the workers that are employed across the value chain. These workers, while taking up the role of customer or consumer, automatically gets shifted to the high power-high interest segment.

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The image below gives the readers a brief idea of the marketing efficiencies of various marketing channels associated with the Pearl Millets.

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The Way Forward

It goes without saying that government impetus is extremely important in making Millet the star crop of the country. Several marketing campaigns that focus on the importance of millets have to be designed and circulated amongst the masses by the government in addition to Millet based initiatives. Odisha government has taken a number of steps in this regard, and the images below show the initiatives taken by the government towards the same.

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A robust public distribution system of not only Millets but also other essential grains will ensure that Millets are helpful in satiating the hunger of the poor. In addition, farmers need to be incentivized properly regarding the production of Millets as a whole and a strategic team need to be deployed by the government that makes use of barren, low-quality lands to produce millets while useful well-nourished lands can be used for the production of other crops.

If India can successfully leverage the growing preference for Millets, both in the country and worldwide, improve its Yield per Hectare of Millets by commercializing it, incentivizing production amongst farmers and improving distribution using the PDS, then Millets will definitely be one of India’s top exports bringing in much-needed revenue from outside.

References

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