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Why Millets Matter

During the eighteenth G2o summit, which India hosted under the theme “One earth – One family – One future,” there was an emphasis on promoting millets as a sustainable and nutritious choice. Around 2,300 years ago, Megasthenes explored India and documented his observations in the book “Indika.” According to his records, even at that time millets were a prominent crop cultivated in ancient India and enjoyed widespread popularity among the population.

Relevance:

  • GS2- Health
  • GS3- Cropping Patterns

Mains Question:

Despite being the champions of food security, millets have been highly ignored in India’s food spectrum. Comment Critically. (15 marks, 250 words).

About Millets:

  • Millets are highly nutritious superfoods encompassing various small-seeded crops such as sorghum (jowar), pearl millet (bajra), and finger millet (ragi). They possess the capacity to provide sustenance to the growing population without causing substantial environmental damage.
  • Millets have been a staple in our diets since ancient times and have recently earned the designation of “Shree Anna,” signifying them as the finest among all grains.

Recent Developments in Millet Cultivation:

  • In 2018, India designated it as the national year of millets, and in response to India’s request, the United Nations declared 2023 as the international year of millets.
  •  In February 2023, during the G20 Agriculture Deputies’ meeting, India urged G20 nations to embrace the 3S strategy, emphasizing smart and sustainable agriculture accessible to all.
  • A month later, the Indian government organized a global millets (Shree Anna) conference, which acted as a platform for sharing agricultural best practices concerning millets.
  •  In April 2023, the G20 Meeting of Agricultural Chief Scientists convened in Varanasi and wholeheartedly endorsed India’s MAHARISHI initiative, focused on millets and other ancient grains’ international research.
  • India, being the world’s largest millet producer, accounting for almost 20 percent of global production, has a significant stake in promoting millets.

Benefits of Millets:

  • Millets are resilient to climate changes, offering better resistance to rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.
  • These sturdy, drought-resistant crops have the potential to enhance food security throughout India.
  • Millets are a nutritious dietary choice and can combat many lifestyle-related diseases common in urban areas.
  • Compared to rice and wheat, millets are richer in protein, iron, and calcium.
  • They are packed with polyphenols, aiding in fat absorption reduction, and have a low glycemic index, which helps regulate blood sugar levels.

When Millets Were Overlooked:

  • Despite their numerous advantages, millets were largely neglected during the post-independence period in India. The early years after independence were marked by famine, reduced agricultural productivity, and widespread hunger, necessitating increased food production as a top priority.
  • At this critical juncture, high-yield varieties of wheat and rice were developed, followed by agricultural mechanization, chemical plant establishments, and expanded irrigation facilities. This led to India’s transition to a food-surplus nation under the Green Revolution.
  • However, challenges arose as the years passed. In 1962, Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” drew attention to the adverse environmental effects of chemical-based agriculture. The Green Revolution’s success depended on favorable agro-climatic conditions, leading to economic disparities in different regions of India, primarily an agrarian-based economy.
  • Intensified chemical and mechanical use in Green Revolution states like Haryana and Punjab resulted in soil degradation, water pollution, and a public health crisis. Groundwater levels have significantly declined in many parts of these states.

Conclusion:

 Climate change exacerbates these issues, prompting state governments to discourage water-intensive crops like rice. Millets were the primary food crops in India before the Green Revolution, and their reintroduction is now seen as a climate adaptation strategy. Incorporating millets into our food supply system is essential for improving the overall health of the Indian population. Including millets in the daily diet can effectively combat issues like iron deficiency, a major public health concern in India. The numerous benefits associated with millets position them as champions in the food system. Their global reintroduction into the food supply can contribute to achieving multiple UN Sustainable Development Goals simultaneously.


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