To address multi-pronged health issues such as obesity and under-nutrition, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution sponsored by India and supported by more than 70 countries, declaring 2023 as the International Year of Millets .

Why are millets considered important ‘nutri-cereals’? These are essential climate resilient staple food crops grown in dryland agriculture that has occupied 68 per cent of the area under cultivation and produced 44 per cent of food requirements. Sorghum, pearl millets, and a range of small millets can thrive in varying agro-climatic regions. Cultivating millets requires less water than rice, sugarcane and wheat, and will be suitable for small farmers.

However, scalable intervention in millet production, processing, and cross-border trade is yet to be observed. Perhaps, the agronomic and cultural shift from ‘mono-cropping’ or subsistence farming to scalable adoption of coarse cereals needs evidence-based demonstration for farmer adoption and consumption.

The millets market globally is estimated at $9 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $12.5 billion. India is the largest consumer and accounts for 38 per cent of global demand.

FAO data reveals that in India, millets’ area under cultivation has averaged at 108 lakh hectares and reported a dispersion of 27 lakh hectares between 2000 and 2019. The average production is estimated at 111 lakh tonnes showing a dispersion of 29 lakh tonnes with average productivity of 1,041 kg a hectare in the corresponding period. Further analysis shows that millets area under production has a negative 2.25 per cent Compounded Annual Growth Rate between 2000 and 2019, while production CAGR is only 0.08 per cent. However, the productivity exhibits a positive 2.38 per cent CAGR.

Given the declining or even stagnant trend of millets area under cultivation, the government included the cereals in the (Targeted) Public Distribution System under the sub-mission ‘Nutri-cereals’ in 2018. Millets are also covered in the Price Support Scheme and the MSP of pearl and small millets range between ₹2,000 and ₹3,150 a quintal.

While considerable effort and resources have been invested to push millets cultivation, the consumption pattern is not yet encouraging. Kane-Potaka et al (2021) of ICRISAT reported that between 1962 and 2010, India’s per capita consumption of millets fell significantly from 32.9 kg to 4.2 kg per year.

Bottom-up approach

An action plan needs to be formulated to map the millets value chain, namely production, processing, distribution, consumption, and cross-border trades with the functions of agencies and actors involved in the value chain.

First, classifying agro-climatic zones for millets cultivation and following an awareness-interest-evaluation-trial approach to promote millets adoption and rendering support activities to value creation can be integral part of the action plan.

Second, Agricultural Technology Application Research Institutes and Krishi Vigyan Kendras can invest in capacity building of smallholder farmers through field demonstration.

The Ministry concerned can promote participatory millets farming, drawing best practices from Odisha, Chhattisgarh, and Karnataka. Agri-tech farms can be roped in to disseminate recommended practices to micro-entrepreneurs and farming communities.

Third, the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) can incentivise commercial cultivation of millets such as ‘one district one product’ or cluster farming for trade promotion.

A comprehensive study can help understand the market segments, consumer preferences, and export competitiveness. Value-added produce such as ready-to-eat products are important to boost millets in urban areas.

The writer is Chairman of CFAM,

IIM Lucknow. Views are personal