For Ramakrishnan, a tribal farmer carrying out millet farming at Soosanikkudy in Marayur in Kerala’s Idukki district, the Covid-induced lockdown has turned out to be a good business opportunity in this season.

The increased production of millets such as Ragi, Maize, Thina (Foxtail millet), etc — which is ready for harvest in a month — in his tribal hamlets has found buyers in the open market.

The expectation of a good crop has attracted many organic farm producers. A 200-gm millet pack fetches a retail price of ₹40 in the market, Ramakrishnan said.

The lockdown has forced not only Ramakrishnan, but also farmers in other hamlets to raise production this season, who had feared a possible food shortage arising out of the pandemic. The unprecedented situation has resulted in a good yield, which is getting ready for harvest.

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Farmers hope to double the normal annual crop of 24 tonnes in Idukki through concerted efforts. The maize production is also anticipated to double to 30 tonnes, he said.

According to the farming community, cultivation of millet — one of the most farmer-friendly crops — was a major agricultural activity among the tribal community of Munnar earlier to meet their food requirement. However, the dependence on free ration through PDS led to the neglect of millet farming, resulting in the lands lying idle in many tribal hamlets.

Ramakrishnan said students returning to colonies with the closing down of educational institutions in the lockdown ensured labour availability for millet cultivation. Apart from farming related activities such as land preparation, sowing of seeds etc they even provided security for the crop in the field from wild animals, he said.

Joby George, the agriculture officer in Vattavada, said the department distributed around 800 kg of Ragi seeds this year in coordination with the United Nations Development Programme. Rich in calcium, fibre and protein, Ragi has a shelf life of around four years and the tribal communities use it while preparing favourite dishes such as Appam, Puttu etc.

The report prepared by the Kerala Agriculture Department in 2017 says Ragi is cultivated in 13 hectares in Idukki high ranges and of this, 90 per cent is in the tribal colonies of Kanthallur, Marayur, Vattavada, Edamalakudi, Munnar panchayats.

Attapady in Palakkad is the biggest millet producer. The State government has also initiated steps to launch value-added products from surplus production of millets, official sources said.