Read to find out the exceptional benefits and uses of Millets in “The Year of Millets”

By Venkatesh Ganapathy

The market for millets in India is experiencing notable growth and transformation. This was primarily driven by increasing health and nutrition awareness among consumers, with millets being recognized for their gluten-free nature, high fiber content, and low glycemic index. Moreover, the market saw a surge in diverse millet-based products, including flours, snacks, and ready-to-eat meals, which appealed to urban consumers.

Government initiatives, such as the “National Food Security Mission on Millets,” aimed to boost millet production and consumption. A resurgence of interest in traditional foods, combined with India’s rich history of millet consumption, further propelled the market’s expansion. Additionally, millets gained recognition for their sustainability and minimal water requirements, making them an environmentally friendly choice. The health food and organic food industry embraced millets for their perceived health benefits, and export opportunities grew as millets gained popularity in other countries.

The growing popularity of millets in India can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, there is an increasing trend towards health and wellness, with consumers seeking nutritious, whole-grain alternatives. Millets are gluten-free, rich in dietary fiber, and have a low glycemic index, making them a favorable choice for health-conscious individuals, particularly in the wake of rising lifestyle-related health issues.

Moreover, government initiatives and awareness campaigns have played a pivotal role in promoting millet cultivation and consumption. The revival of traditional foods has also been instrumental, as millets have a longstanding presence in Indian cuisine. Their resilience in arid conditions and minimal water requirements have positioned them as a sustainable and eco-friendly crop, aligning with growing environmental concerns. Additionally, the diversification of millet-based products and their integration into the organic and health food sector has broadened their appeal, making them more accessible to a wider consumer base. As millets continue to gain recognition for their nutritional benefits and sustainability, their popularity in India is expected to rise even further.

The decline in the popularity of millets in the 1970s and 1980s can be attributed to several factors, many of which were linked to changes in agricultural, dietary, and socio-economic trends during that period. Some of the key reasons for the decline in millet consumption and cultivation during this time include:

Green Revolution: The Green Revolution, which began in the mid-20th century, focused on the promotion of high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice. These grains became the primary staples in many parts of India, displacing traditional millet crops.

Increased Urbanization: The urbanization trend led to a shift in dietary preferences. Millets, which were often considered traditional or rural foods, were gradually replaced by more modern and processed food options.

Perceived Inferiority: There was a perception that millets were inferior to rice and wheat in terms of taste, convenience, and social status. This perception influenced dietary choices.

Crop Subsidies and Support: Government policies and subsidies for rice and wheat production made these crops more financially attractive for farmers. Millets, being less subsidized, became less economically viable.

Changing Lifestyles: As lifestyles changed and people became busier, convenience foods like rice and wheat became more popular due to their shorter cooking times and easier processing.

Lack of Awareness: There was a lack of awareness about the nutritional benefits of millets and how they could be incorporated into modern diets.

Market Infrastructure: The marketing and distribution infrastructure for millets was less developed compared to rice and wheat, making it harder for consumers to access millet products.

Loss of Traditional Knowledge: With the transition to other crops, traditional knowledge about millet cultivation and recipes started to erode.

The Government of India has taken several actions to popularize millets as a part of its efforts to promote their cultivation and consumption. Some of these initiatives and actions include:

  1. National Food Security Mission on Millets (NFSM-Millets): The government launched the NFSM-Millets program to increase millet production. This program provides financial and technical assistance to farmers to encourage millet cultivation.
  2. Millets in Public Distribution System (PDS): Some states in India have introduced millets in the Public Distribution System (PDS) to make them more accessible to a larger section of the population, especially those in need of food security.
  3. Support for Research and Development: The government supports research and development activities related to millets. This includes efforts to develop high-yielding millet varieties and promote sustainable farming practices.
  4. Promotion and Awareness Campaigns: Various awareness campaigns have been initiated to educate consumers about the nutritional benefits of millets. These campaigns aim to create a demand for millet-based products.
  5. Incorporation into School Meals: In some states, millets have been incorporated into mid-day meal programs for school children, promoting their consumption from a young age.
  6. Training and Capacity Building: The government provides training and capacity building programs for farmers to improve millet cultivation techniques, which can enhance their yield and income.
  7. Financial Incentives: In some cases, financial incentives, subsidies, and support have been provided to farmers to encourage the cultivation of millets.
  8. Millets Trade Promotion: The government has supported millet trade promotion by facilitating marketing and distribution channels. This includes efforts to create millet-based value-added products and marketing strategies.
  9. Food Safety Standards and Regulations: The government has been working on establishing clear food safety standards and regulations for millet products to ensure their quality and safety for consumers.
  10. Partnerships with NGOs and Private Sector: Collaborations with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector have been encouraged to further promote millets and create a sustainable market for them.

It’s important to note that while millets lost popularity during 60’s and 70’s, there has been a resurgence in interest in recent years. Millets are now being recognized for their nutritional value, low water requirements, and resilience in adverse environmental conditions. Efforts are being made to reintroduce millets into the Indian diet and promote their cultivation as a sustainable and healthy alternative.

The future of millets in India holds promise as these ancient grains are experiencing a revival in the country. Recognized for their nutritional benefits, climate resilience, and sustainability, millets are increasingly being reintegrated into the Indian diet. Government initiatives, awareness campaigns, and the emergence of millet-based products are contributing to their resurgence. With a growing emphasis on health and eco-conscious choices, millets are expected to play a significant role in addressing food security, supporting sustainable agriculture, and promoting well-being in India. As consumers embrace millets for their versatility and health advantages, the future of these resilient grains in India appears bright and filled with potential.

About the Author

(The author presently works as Associate Professor in Presidency Business School, Bangalore. He teaches MBA students marketing and strategy).