International year of millets and the role of digital technologies

Millets, a grain rich in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, are frequently referred to as “superfoods” due to their great nutritional content. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, India produces many types millets, making up 20% of global output and 80% of production in Asia[1]. It had been the leading staple food in central India for millennia, however, their promise to address climate change and food security is not fully realized yet. As a result, millet cultivation is dwindling in many nations even though millets can grow with comparably fewer inputs than other cereals on relatively poor soils even in challenging and desert circumstances.

The unorganized food processing system needs to be formalized by giving FPOs, and SHGs (self-help groups) technical support, credit connections, and enough storage space to prevent food waste.

 

International Year of Millets

2023 has been dubbed the “International Year of Millets” to spread awareness of the grain’s advantages for human health and its adaptability to changing climatic circumstances[3]. The International Year of Millets offers a special opportunity to increase millets’ global production, ensure their effective processing and consumption, encourage crop rotations, and highlight their importance as a staple food.

With declaration of the International Year of Millets, India is now prepared to lead the globe by imparting established values, technological advancements, the benefits of millets, and best practices to other nations. The Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers urged entrepreneurs and Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) to assist scale millets value chain, link to domestic and international markets, and develop an inclusive framework that includes producing communities. As a result, numerous start-ups and FPOs showcased cutting-edge agri-tech solutions and sustainable & wholesome millet-based goods at the ‘Food, Agriculture, and Livelihood’ fortnight event held in early 2022.

 

Reviving millet cultivation

Millets are tough plants that can survive in a wide range of agro-climate locations and can resist extremely high and low temperatures. Even at temperatures as high as 46 degrees Celsius, some varieties of pearl millet can thrive. Most importantly, compared to wheat and rice, which have carbon footprints of 3,968 kg and 3,401 kg respectively, these crops have a reduced carbon footprint, which helps moderate the effects of climate change. Millets also require less water than rice, sugarcane, and wheat. Millets offer a considerable cost advantage as a feedstock for manufacturing bio-ethanol while using 40% less energy in processing than maize[4].

The Food and Agriculture Organization found that between 2000 and 2019, the area under production of millets decreased steadily at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.25%. The output of millets stayed largely stable during this time since productivity increased at a rate of just over 2%. The consumption data is also uninspiring; consumers have shunned millets despite their high nutritious content and climatic resilience[5]. The International Crops Study Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics published research in 2021 that showed India’s per capita consumption of millets dropped significantly between 1962 and 2010, from 32.9 kg to 4.2 kg per year, respectively[6].

According to reports, the Odisha Millets Mission (OMM) has inspired over one lakh farmers in the state’s 15 districts to grow millets. By encouraging better agronomic techniques, the OMM has made millets easier to produce, process, market, and consume. To revive millet production, a lot of focus has been placed on raising awareness, setting a minimum support price (MSP), including millets in the public distribution system, and providing integrated child development services[7]. Same can be done worldwide.

 

Why the food supply chain needs to be “traceable”?

Increasing only production is insufficient; it’s also crucial to strengthen the millet value chain. The idea of traceability is not new. It has been present to varying degrees in many supply chains, more so in the B2B sections of the chain where transaction volumes are large. However, end-to-end traceability was not commonly used. Up until now, it was assumed that as long as a product is valuable to the consumer, they wouldn’t care where it came from. Traceability, however, considers both the product’s origin and what happens to it as it passes through the supply chain.

  • Traceability establishes the food’s origin and the circumstances under which it was prepared, transported, and stored; traceable food is also safe.
  • In the supply chain, traceability between farmer, consumer, aggregator, processor, and distributor, helps to establish confidence. For commodities or unbranded products like fruits, vegetables, and basic foods, trust is extremely important.
  • The “fair-trade” customer, who is concerned with the price the producer receives, is a subset of the consumer class. Solutions for traceability have the potential to correctly solve the equation involving consumer price and farmer’s share.

 

Conclusion

Government of India is actively promoting millet procurement/consumption in the country, as well as the use of procured millets for distribution in the TPDS/ICDS/MDM Scheme. The International Year of Millets will encourage young minds to propose technological/commercial solutions to existing problems in the millets’ ecosystem. The current view of millet as a staple food for the underprivileged will change due to the International Year of Millets, particularly among urban dwellers. It is undoubtedly a praiseworthy step by the government, and the next step is to make millet products widely accessible in urban supermarkets.

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