About 50 media representatives and bloggers engaged with industry experts and state government officials concluding that while the value of millets is high, awareness is low and modern ways to use them are yet to be fully discovered. This was the first curtain raiser event to develop a campaign to popularize millets with new products ranging from millet ice cream to millet pasta and muffins on the menu and the agenda.
The campaign is an initiative of the Karnataka Government of Agriculture and was the result of a roundtable discussion with food processors in August this year to identify the opportunities and hurdles to develop the millet industry. ICRISAT and the Indian Institute of Millet Research (IIMR) will coordinate the campaign.
Mr Krishna Byre Gowda, Minister for Agriculture, Government of Karnataka, noted that, “We are working closely with farmers but this is not enough as we also need to look at the whole value chain. But nothing will work if we do not satisfy the different needs of consumers and the media are key in both communicating what people want as well as building awareness about millets.”
“The public have an increasing level of consciousness about the environment and the challenges that will come with climate change like higher temperatures and more droughts. What few consumers know is how environmentally friendly millets are with a low carbon footprint and a low water footprint and being so hardy they are some of the last crops standing in times of drought,” stressed Dr Vilas Tonapi, Director, IIMR.
Dr Bhaskarachary, Senior Scientist, National Institute of Nutrition, noted, “The dangerous rise in diabetes in India making it the diabetic capital of the world means we need to seriously look at our diet. Along with the need for weight control, millets are a great solution for both, being slowly digestible with a low Glycemic Load (GL). However millets also have many benefits to keep us healthy with high levels of many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.”
Steps needed to popularize millets were debated with a robust discussion at the end. Some of the key focus areas included:
- Building awareness with consumers and especially building a positive and modern image of millets was seen as critical. Urban areas were seen as key in this process as they are the aspirational markets and set the trends in the rural areas as well.
- The need for a credible common information source about millets, especially the nutritional benefits.
- National level minimum price support that covers at least the costs of production but should also cover the social benefits of millet.
- Product development of convenient modern products that keep the nutritional value of millets and are healthy; also of nutrient dense products and sports energy foods.
- Developing better equipment for mechanization; however it was also noted that the existing mechanization is not fully utilized and awareness needs to be raised.
- Support for rural processing facilities to be set up.
- As women are often the millet farmers, mechanization and processing developments that target and are designed for women were recognized as important to include.
The Minister reiterated his commitment behind this movement to popularize millets, with a collective approach needed to make a major impact.