Bring back millets to the table
For building a common understanding on the activities for the upcoming International Year of Millets 2023, a team from FAO visited ICRISAT-India. The importance of campaigning for millets to secure their deserved place in the food basket figured high in the discussions as did caution to not label them as ‘superfoods’.
Mr Tomio Shichiri, FAO Representative in India, said that with India’s focus moving from food security to nutrition security, the importance of bringing back millets to people’s diets is important from the nutrition perspective.
Presenting a proposal for millet innovations, strengthening value chains, raising awareness and creating millet products through public-private partnerships, ICRISAT scientist Dr Ashok Kumar said that the promotion and consumption of millets should not be a passing fad and must to be taken up as a sustained activity as they provide nutrition and climate resilience simultaneously.
Mr Konda Reddy, Assistant Representative at FAO-India, enquired about the big challenges hindering the uptake of millets by farmers and consumers and sought game-changing solutions. Suggestions that emerged from the interaction include:
- Enhancing awareness among consumers to include them in the food basket and create a market pull for enhancing farmers’ profitability and consumer nutrition.
- Promoting behavioral change campaigns among consumers who have forgotten ways to cook and consume millets.
- Including millets in the Public Distribution System as done by the Indian states of Karnataka and Odisha.
- Creating demand through local food system development so that millet is available to all and not limited to supermarkets and high-income consumers in urban areas.
- Geographical indication for millet products.
- Balance demand-supply at the production level while sustaining natural resources.
- Increase investment in millets research for nutrition profiling, sensory factors like palatability and value chain development.
- Look at millet production as part of a food system. Emphasize dietary diversity and not consumption of millet alone.
- Check labels of retailed millet products for the percentage of millet in it. Caution advised when picking up millet snacks off the shelf for health benefits claimed by sellers.
- Need to spread awareness of including millet as one of the staples in diets to get the required nutritional benefit and fight diabetes and anemia.
- Fix a percentage for millet in the food basket and ensure it is widely promoted during the International Year of Millets in 2023.
- Millet productivity in Africa is low and needs priority funding. The private sector needs to be encouraged to invest in millet production. The focus needs to be on grain quality, palatability and cooking requirements.
- Different species of millets are cultivated in both Africa and Asia, which provide an opportunity to integrate millets into the traditional farming and food system for food, feed, nutritional security and system sustainability.
- Set minimum standards for nutritional quality in varietal release to mainstream nutrition into breeding programs.
During the deliberations, Mr Raman Ahuja, food and agriculture value chain specialist, FAO, said that value addition to millets is key and millet products should be affordable to most consumers. Millets should not become another quinoa in terms of pricing, he said.
Prior to the interaction, the team visited the ICRISAT genebank and took a field trip thereafter. The interaction session held on 18 November was attended by ICRISAT scientists Drs Ashok Kumar, Shalander Kumar, Sreenath Dixit, Janila Pasupuleti, S K Gupta, Vetriventhan M, Anitha Seetha and Ephrem Habyarimana.
Reported by Jemima Mandapati
Senior Communications Officer, ICRISAT