- Acting on India’s proposal, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations has agreed to celebrate ‘International Year of Millets’ in 2023
What are millets?
- Millet is a common term to categorize small-seeded grasses that are often termed nutri-cereals or dryland-cereals.
- It includes sorghum, pearl millet, ragi, small millet, foxtail millet, proso millet, barnyard millet, kodo millet and other millets.
- An important staple cereal crop for millions of small holder dryland farmers across sub-saharan Africa and Asia, millets offer nutrition, resilience, income and livelihood for farmers even in difficult times.
- They have multiple untapped uses such as food, feed, fodder, biofuels and brewing.
- Therefore, millets are Smart Food as they are Good for You, Good for the Farmer and Good for the Planet.
Significance of the move
- Idea behind the move is to create awareness and inspire all stakeholders to work towards improving production and productivity of the climate-resilient and nutritious millets across the globe.
- It will raise awareness about millets among consumers, policy makers, industry and R&D sector.
- Promotion of production and consumption of millets through conscious efforts at global level is likely to contribute substantially in the fight against targeted hunger and mitigate the effect of climate change in long run.
- Popularizing millets would benefit future generations of farmers as well as consumers.
- In November 2017, the Union Minister for Agriculture & Farmers Welfare sent a proposal to United Nations for declaring the year 2018 as ‘International Year of Millets’
- The committee on agriculture first discussed it with an option to slot it for 2026. But, Indian representative could convince the panel to place it early so that it can at least fall within the UN ‘Decade of Action on Nutrition 2016-2025’.
- The decision was taken in the ongoing session of the FAO’s Committee on Agriculture in Rome.
- The Committee endorsed India’s proposal and decided to slot it for the year 2023.
- It’ll now be cleared by the FAO Council in December.
- Since the international years are observed by the UN, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) will finally adopt it before formal declaration.
- These are, however, the procedural formalities now.
Are millets better than wheat and rice?
- Millets are nutritionally superior to wheat and rice due to their higher levels of protein with more balanced amino acid profile, crude fibre and minerals such as Iron, Zinc, and Phosphorous
- Millets can provide nutritional security and act as a shield against nutritional deficiency, especially among children and women.
- The anaemia (iron deficiency), B-complex vitamin deficiency, pellagra (niacin deficiency) can be effectively tackled with intake of less expensive but nutritionally rich food grains like millets.
- Millets can also help tackle health challenges such as obesity, diabetes and lifestyle problems as they are gluten free, have a low glycemic index and are high in dietary fibre and antioxidants
Other benefits offered by millets
- Adapted to low or no purchased inputs and to harsh environment of the semi-arid tropics, they are the backbone for dry land agriculture.
- Photo-insensitive & resilient to climate change, millets are hardy, resilient crops that have a low carbon and water footprint, can withstand high temperatures and grow on poor soils with little or no external inputs.
- In times of climate change they are often the last crop standing and, thus, are a good risk management strategy for resource-poor marginal farmers.
Steps taken by India for promotion of millets:
- India is celebrating 2018 as ‘National Year of Millets’,
- In April, 2018 notified these cereals as ‘ nutri-cereals’ and allowed its inclusion in the Public Distribution System (PDS) for improving nutritional support.
- The millets in the category of “ Nutri-Cereals” include Sorghum ( Jowar), Pearl Millet ( Bajra), Finger Millet ( Ragi), Foxtail Millet ( Kangani/ Kakun) and Buckwheat ( Kuttu) among others.
- Recognising millets’ anti-diabetic properties, the notification called it a “powerhouse of nutrients” and identified several varieties of millets for promotion.
- Later in July 2018, the government had substantially hiked the minimum support price (MSP) of millets so that more and more farmers may opt for cultivation of these less water consuming crops.
- According to the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), over 500 million people in more than 30 countries depend on sorghum as a staple food.
- However, in the past 50 years, these grains have largely been abandoned in favour of more popular crops like maize, wheat, rice and soybeans.
- Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is the oldest permanent specialized agency of the United Nations, established in October 1945 that leads international efforts to defeat hunger.
- Serving both developed and developing countries, FAO acts as a neutral forum where all nations meet as equals to negotiate arguments and debate policy.
- Its Headquarter is in Rome, Italy.
- FAO is also a source of knowledge and information, and helps developing countries in transition modernize and improve agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices, ensuring good nutrition and food security for all.
- Its Latin motto, fiat panis, translates as “let there be bread”.
- It has 197 member states.