What can the Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR), which has been elevated as a Centre of Excellence(CoE), contribute to the global millet ecosystem? A lot, going by the Centre’s proposal in the Budget. 

“Unlike other major staple crops, the millet ecosystem is not widespread globally. It is more or less confined to Africa and the Indian sub-continent,” B Dayakara Rao, Chief Executive Officer (IIMMR’s Technology Business Incubator), told businessline.

The millet ecosystem was in need of further impetus in the form of sharing knowledge, best practices and technologies. Rao, who is also a Nodal Officer for National Millet Mission, feelsthat the decision has come at the right time as the demand for millets has gone up. “We need to promote millet cultivation by offering farmers enhanced productivity models,” he said.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced in her Budget, as part of observing the International Year of Millets,that the Hyderabad-based institute will act as a CoE for ”Shree Anna” to take the research on millets to the international level and make India a global hub for millets. “India is at the forefront of popularising millets, whose consumption furthers nutrition, food security and welfare of farmers,” she said, quoting Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“We are the world’s largest producer and second largest exporter of ‘Shree Anna’. We grow several types of ‘Shree Anna’ such as jowar, ragi, bajra, kuttu, ramdana, kangni, kutki, kodo, cheena, and sama,” she said. These have a number of health benefits and have been an integral part of our food for centuries, she said.

“It would share best practices, research and technologies at the international level,” she said.

India grows millets in 12.45 million hectares, producing 15.53 million tonnes annually. India accounts for 20 per cent of all millets production in the world.

The millet R&D machine

The IIMR has undergone several changes before it became a full-fledged ICAR institute in 2014 with a mandate to work on research in millets.

What started as a Project on Intensified Research on Cotton, Oilseeds and Millets (PIRCOM) in 1958, the institute served as Regional Research Station of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute before becoming  the main unit of All India Coordinated Sorghum Improvement Project (AICSIP).

It then was made National Research Centre for Sorghum (NRCS) in 1987 with a focus on rabi sorghum. It was elevated as the Directorate of Sorghum Research (DSR) in 2009, before getting a full-fledged ICAR institute status with an exclusive mandate to research on millets.

Besides working on research to increase productivity and production, the institute has started developing cost-effective technologies for processing grain and manufacturing value-added products. It later set up a Technology Incubation Centre to develop and transfer technologies to promote the consumption of millet-based food products. It is the main driver behind the surge in the interest and consumption of millet-based products in the country in the last 5-6 years.