Millet might: Here is how Odisha can succeed in reviving these cereals lost to the Green Revolution

Odisha’s mission to bring millets back to its fields and plates needs greater marketing support and promotion beyond tribal areas 

By Anamika Yadav
Published: Tuesday 11 October 2022
While the Odisha Millet Mission was launched to promote seven millet crops, ragi dominates production and procurement (Photo courtesy: Collector and DM, Sundargarh)

Supply creates its own demand. This theory, believed to have been proposed by the early 19th century French economist Jean-Baptiste Say, may sound like a foolhardy view to the modern ear, but this is how India lost the diversity of its food basket to the Green Revolution.

In the 1960s, as the country was struggling to feed itself, the focus was to rapidly increase the production of two crops — wheat and rice. This shaped an Indian diet where rice and wheat became the staple food, eventually reducing the demand for other traditional cereal grains like millets.

Assessments in recent decades show that while the Green Revolution has not helped address the nutritional security of India, it has turned the country into the world’s biggest extractor of groundwater. Heavy reliance on chemical inputs has degraded soil, polluted water sources and is harming farmers’ health.

Fifty years later, as Odisha tries to improve nutritional security and promote sustainable agricultural practices, Say’s law has come in handy.

In 2017, the state launched the Odisha Millet Mission (OMM), which aims to bring millets back to its fields and food plates by encouraging farmers to grow the crops that traditionally formed a substantial part of the diet and crop system in tribal areas.

This highly varied group of small-seeded cereal crops not only require less water, farm inputs and are more resilient to climate vulnerability, but rich in nutrients like calcium, iron and protein.

Better for the food plate

The Green Revolution has largely focused on production and consumption of wheat and paddy. However, in terms of nutritional value, millets will prove to be more beneficial

00 Highest amount of the respective nutrient among the given food crops

Food crops
Finger Millet Little Millet Sorghum Pearl Millet Foxtail millet Kodo Millet Barnyard millet Paddy Wheat
Calcium (g) 344 17 25 42 31 35 22 33 30
Phosphorous (g) 283 220 222 240 290 188 280 160 306
Iron (mg) 3.9 9.3 5.4 11 2.8 1.7 18.6 1.8 3.5
Thaimin (mg) 0.41 0.3 0.38 0.42 0.59 0.15 0.33 0.41 0.36
Niacine (mg) 1.1 3.2 4.3 2.8 3.2 2 4.2 4.3 5.1
Protein (g) 7.3 7.7 10.4 11.8 12.3 8.3 6.2 6.8 11.8
Carbohydrates (g) 72 67 70.7 67 60.2 65.9 65.5 78.2 71.2
Fat (g) 1.3 4.7 3.1 4.8 4.3 1.4 4.8 0.5 1.5
Fibre (g) 3.6 7.6 2 2.3 6.7 5.2 13.6 1 2
Energy (kcal) 336 329 329 363 351 353 300 362 358

Note: Approximate value of major nutrients per 100 g of the edible portion Source: National Institute of Nutrition, Telangana, and scientific studies

OMM provides farmers incentives of up to Rs 9,500 per ha over a three-year period to shift to millet cultivation.

This includes free seeds and organic fertilisers. Public-policy think tanks Watershed Support Services and Activities Network (WASSAN) headquartered in Hyderabad and the Nabakrushna Choudhury Centre for Development Studies (NCDS) based in Bhubaneswar, which have partnered with the state government for the mission, conduct regular training programmes for farmers to improve productivity and lower input costs.

To complete the supply chain, the government has created an assured market for the produce. Hiranjan Mohanta, joint director of agriculture for Odisha, says that since 2019, the state has been offering minimum support price of Rs 3,377 per 100 kg of ragi, more than the Rs 1,940 per 100 kg for paddy. It has benchmarked prices for little millet and foxtail millet and developed an automated portal for procurement.

Over the past five years, Odisha has recorded a 14-fold increase in millet production, from 3,333 hectares (ha) in 2017-18 to 53,230 ha in 2021-22. Even the average yield has improved by 28 per cent because of sustainable agricultural practices and quality seeds.

In 2018, NCDS conducted a survey of households growing millets under the mission, and found that the value of their produce per ha doubled from Rs 9,477 to Rs 20,701 and income per ha increased from Rs 3,957 to Rs 12,486.

To ensure that the millets reach the food plates, the government conducts regular campaigns and rallies to make people aware of the benefits of millets and to remove the notion that they are poor people’s food, says Dinesh Balam, associate director, WASSAN.

The government has also made it part of the public distribution system (PDS) and provides 1 kg of ragi per ration card holder, which can increase to 2 kg in areas with high ragi procurement. In Keonjhar and Sundargarh districts, a ragi laddu mix is distributed by anganwadi centres for consumption by young children.

OMM has earned accolades for its agro-ecological initiatives from various national and international agencies, including UN. In 2021, NITI Aayog, think tank of the Union government, said it will facilitate OMM’s learnings in other states.

To assess the impact of the mission on the ground, researchers with Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment travelled this May to various districts of the state. They found that while there has been an increase in overall production and consumption of millets in the state, the crops have not yet regained their earlier glory. 

Shoots of growth

In the first five years of implementation, Odisha Millet Mission has increased production and consumption of millets to some extent. However, to scale up, it must recognise its shortcomings

measures to boost production measures to boost consumption

Incentives of Rs 9,500 per hectare over a three-year period

Campaigns, training and food festivals to promote millets

Capacity-building through training on millet production, application of biological inputs and sowing techniques

Setting up of mobile vans or trucks, cafés, kiosks and
outlets to sell millet-based foods

Procurement of ragi at higher minimum support price than  that of paddy

Creation of “Millet Shakti” brand to sell products like cookies, savoury snacks, vermicelli and processed millets

Facilitation of market linkages by farmer-producer organisations

Under the public distribution system, one ration card holder gets 1-2 kg of ragi, depending on the procurement. Ragi laddu mix is provided by anganwadi centres in two districts

Impacts Shortcomings

19 of 30 districts covered, comprising 142 blocks, 1,722 gram panchayats, 16,989 villages, and 129,222 farmers

Nine districts have less than 5 per cent of farmers’ coverage. Only 1.54 per cent of total net sown area covered

Value of produce per hectare in households increased from Rs 9,477 per ha to R20,701; income from R3,957 to R12,486

Focus has largely been on production and procurement of ragi rather than all kinds of millets

Increased income for women’s self help groups involved in processing and sale of millet products

Numbers of sales outlets are still low. Scale of Millet Shakti and public distribution is extremely limited

Share of farmer households consuming millets in the winter has increased to 98.5 per cent, in the rainy season to
72.6 per cent and in summer to 89.9 per cent.

Only 500 kg of millets are procured at assured prices. Farmers resort to the open market to sell produce they do not or cannot consume at low prices of R10-12 per kg

Much to be desired

OMM promotes production and consumption of seven millets. But so far, focus has been on ragi, which has accounted for 86 per cent of the total area under millets, according to data on the OMM website. In contrast, little millet, foxtail millet, sorghum, pearl millet, kodo millet and barnyard millet cover less than 13 per cent of the area.

Explaining the mission’s focus on ragi, Kalpana Pradhan, scheme officer of the mission, says, “We are looking for high-yielding seeds for non-ragi millets. Farmers are urged to plant some non-ragi millets.”

In 2020-21, the state government procured slightly more than 20 million kg of ragi. However, this accounts for only 27 per cent of the total ragi produced, as OMM procures only 500 kg of ragi per ha and leaves the rest for farmers to consume.

This practice has prompted farmers to consume more millets in all seasons, shows a mid-term evaluation by NCDS in 2019-20. But given that average yield is 1,500 kg per ha, much of the produce does not get procured and farmers are forced to sell it at distressed rate. Damroodhar Jani, from Ranga Paru village in Kandhamal district says, “We get Rs 10-12 per kg in the open market.”

OMM officials also admit that despite ragi being distributed in PDS and as a mix through anganwadi centres in two districts, its consumption has not picked up in a significant manner.

OMM also sells millet products, such as cookies, savoury snacks, vermicelli and processed millets, under a brand called “Millet Shakti” through food trucks, cafés, kiosks and other outlets.

“Women self-help groups (SHGs) have been kept at the centre of the programme. They do not just pay a major role in manufacturing biological inputs to improve millet yields and undertake processing of the produce, but also operate the millet-based cafés and outlets,” says Kalpana.

The full potential of SHGs, though, has not yet been realised. So far, only three women’s SHGs manufacture and process Millet Shakti products, which limits the volume available, income generated, and consumption.

Odisha has set up outlets, cafés, kiosks and food trucks to make the millet-based products available (Photograph: Anamika Yadav / CSE)

OMM also leverages farmer-producer organisations (FPOs) to provide better marketing linkages.

Until now, OMM has tapped into existing FPOs to sell processed millets in the open market or aggregate produce for Tribal Development Co-operative Corporation of Odisha Limited; if a block does not have an FPO, an SHG or community group is registered as one.

Currently, there are 76 FPOs under OMM. But some of them are engaged only in minor processing and aggregation, without plans of scaling up market linkages. Encouraging FPOs with better incentives and benefit-sharing will help them compete in the market, says Sanghamitra Pradhan, scheme officer from Gajapati district.

FPOs also have their limitations, says M Muthu Kumar, OMM director. “To make farmers self-sustainable regardless of OMM, it is critical that we create a parallel market for millets. We are in discussions to get private firms such as Reliance Group involved,” he adds.

For the next five years, Odisha has set targets like revival of millet foods in urban and rural areas, covering 1,000-2,000 ha and 4,000 households in each block under improved agricultural practices, and supporting 142 FPOs for marketing and exports. To meet them, it must recognise its shortcomings.

The programme’s coverage has increased from 14 districts in 2017 to 19 districts now. But data is available only for 15 districts, nine of which have less than 5 per cent of farmers under OMM, covering 1.54 per cent of the total net sown area.

There is no information on the exact production of millets other than ragi. Understanding these trends will help develop better strategies for production, marketing support and consumption. For instance, the government can expand distribution of millets in more districts and include it in midday meals offered in schools to provide a major consumption boost.

Umi Daniel, director of migration and education at development non-profit Action Education (previously known as Aide et Action)-South Asia, who is based in Bhubaneswar, says, “Millets have been grown and consumed by indigenous people for a long time. The decline of the crops was not just due to the Green Revolution, but also because non-tribal people did not accept them.”

“The government is once again aggressively marketing millets in tribal areas, which may stereotype them as tribal or poor people’s food and drive young tribal people away,” he adds.

(This is fourth in a series of six articles on how better market access to non-chemical produce is key to success of regenerative agriculture)

This was first published in the 16-30 September, 2022 edition of Down To Earth

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