Women SHGs in Odisha champion push for millets

The Odisha Millets Mission leads joint efforts to empower women entrepreneurs and promote millet consumption

By Abhijit Mohanty, Prakash Chandra Mallick
Published: Monday 31 July 2023
Photo: Abhijit Mohanty

Odisha has emerged as one of the forerunners of millets, ensuring the participation of women Self-Help Groups (SHGs) in the millet value chain where they are playing a leading role in processing, value addition, and marketing. The initiative not only empowers women entrepreneurs but also promotes the consumption of millets, contributing to a healthier lifestyle in the state.

Early this year, the Chief Minister of Odisha, Naveen Pattanaik, inaugurated a Millet Shakti Café at Lok Seva Bhawan in the Khorda district of Bhubaneswar.

A similar café has also been established at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar. Other districts where Millet Shakti Café and Outlet has been introduced include Angul, Balangir, Cuttack, Ganjam, Keonjhar, Kalahandi, Nuapada, Puri and Sundargarh.

The initiative is a part of a joint effort led by the Odisha Millets Mission (OMM), a flagship program launched by the Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Empowerment and the Department of Mission Shakti, to mainstream millet-based food in rural and urban areas. The aim is to create sustainable livelihoods and improve nutritional security, involving women SHGs through millet-based enterprises.

“Our snacks are in high demand,” said Sarojini Raul, president of Maa Mangala, women SHG, who runs a Millet Shakti Café at Lok Seva Bhawan. “People are becoming more health-conscious these days. In our café, there is something for everyone, be it a 5-year-old child or elderly people,” she highlighted.

OMM has demonstrated a unique approach to promoting upskilling and gender equity. Odisha has been successfully harnessing the power of women SHGs to ensure household millet consumption, providing diverse millet recipes to consumers in urban and rural areas that are locally acceptable and highly nutritious.

“Women from marginalised sections of society are given an opportunity to showcase their millet entrepreneurial skills,” said Binod Kumar Jena, OAS, joint secretary, Mission Shakti Department. This initiative allows them to step out of their traditional roles and take charge of their economic independence, he added.

The café is a one-stop hub for a range of millet food items, including chops, samosas, pancakes, poda pitha, khakra, laddoo, pasta, chowmein, pizza, muduki, mixture, etc. The Millet Shakti Café and Millet Shakti Outlets offer a diverse menu that showcases the versatility of millets in culinary creations.

From traditional Odia cuisines to innovative millet-based recipes, the café and outlet cater to a wide range of tastes and preferences. This has enabled customers to relish delectable millet-based snacks, desserts, beverages, and even whole meals. This approach promotes the consumption of millets and encourages people to explore healthy eating habits.

“Odisha’s women SHGs are playing a crucial role in driving the millet value chain, through their engagements in each step from farm to fork,” said Dr. Arabinda Kumar Padhee, principal secretary, Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Empowerment, Government of Odisha.

Women SHGs are helping sustain the economy of millets, preserving biodiversity, and maintaining ecological harmony, he added.

The traditional processing of millets was once a tedious task, triggering drudgery among women. To address this challenge, Sujata R Karthikeyan, IAS, commissioner-cum-secretary, Department of Mission Shakti said, “Decentralised processing units along with collaboration between different missions and community-driven efforts have substantially reduced the burdensome process associated with millet processing.”

OMM has created an enabling ecosystem and promoted the engagement of a range of stakeholders to revalorise the Aadi Anna. Women SHGs have been trained on recipe formulation for better nutrition, dietary diversity, packaging, quality control, food safety, bookkeeping, business planning, and marketing.

The Mission Shakti Department has also been instrumental in mobilising and capacity building of women SHGs engaged in millet processing and value addition initiatives, Padhee highlighted. The revival of millets in Odisha has instilled a sense of confidence among women groups, helping them to beat poverty and malnutrition.

In the coming years, the Odisha government has plans to expand the OMM model, thereby providing opportunities for more women to become financially independent. This expansion will also contribute to spreading awareness about the nutritional benefits of millets and motivate more people to include millets in their food plates.

Abhijit Mohanty is a development practitioner and a freelance journalist based in Bhubaneswar. He has worked with indigenous communities in India and Cameroon, especially on issues of land, forest and water

Prakash Chandra Mallick: Alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. He works as an Associate State Coordinator under Odisha Millets Mission in WASSAN, Bhubaneswar

Views expressed are the authors’ own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth 

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