Include millets in PDS for food and nutritional security, demand scientists

Area under cultivation of millets is declining in spite of national Food Security Mission
Include millets in PDS for food and nutritional security, demand scientists

While the Union government plans to restructure the Food Corporation of India (FCI), agriculture scientists and nutrition experts are recommending that effective millet management should be included in the Public Distribution System (PDS) of the country. The step is important to achieve the food and nutrition security for the small and marginal tribal farming communities, they say.

Recently, the ministry of consumer affairs, food and public distribution constituted a committee to restructure FCI in order to put a check on high cost and high wastage in food procurement and its distribution to consumers. One of the mandates of the committee is to suggest ways to make PDS, a scheme through which FCI procures grains from the farmers and distributes them to consumers at subsidised prices, more affective.

In a national level consultation on 'New Opportunities for Nutritious Foods and Climate Smart Agriculture' in New Delhi on August 21, agriculture and nutrition experts from various parts of the country recommended that PDS policies should be more focused on alleviating poverty and malnutrition among the small-holder and family farmers. One of the ways to do that is to promote effective procurement and distribution of millets in the PDS, argued the participants.

"Minor Millets are nutritionally rich and climate-smart and therefore should be given the focus they deserve. In the Public Distribution System (PDS), as per the new Food Security Act, passed by Parliament, millets are priced at Re 1, compared to wheat at Rs 2 and rice at Rs 3 in the PDS. However, this has not been institutionalised in the PDS system and no procurement is happening for millets and no MSP has been fixed, unlike in the case of rice and wheat where procurement mechanisms are in place,” said Ajay Parida, Executive Director, M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF).

“PDS being the single largest mechanism to reach the most-at-need vulnerable populations, it is essential to put in place mechanisms for production, procurement and distribution of millets to help the nation move towards nutrition security. In addition, the inclusion of millets in the Mid-Day-Meal and the ICDS would help increase the nutritive value of the dietary intake of the groups that these schemes reach," added Parida.

In terms of nutrients such as proteins, fiber, minerals or micro-nutrients, millets have been proven to be better than wheat and rice. Besides, they need less water to grow and can provide high productivity even in the difficult climatic conditions. While the government claims to be promoting millets under the Food Security Mission, there still a lot needs to be done. J S Sandhu, agriculture commissioner with government of India, agreed: “In spite of the prediction of deficit monsoon, the area under cultivation of millets is declining,” he said.

The consultation was organised by MSSRF in which various researchers, public policy advocates, government agencies and non-profits shared the knowledge and experiences of promoting sustainable agricultural practices that helped small-holder and family farmers move towards food and nutritional security. The consultation demanded that the government should ensure access to appropriate seeds for farmers for the home gardens through PDS and provide financial and other support to them for nutritious underutilised crops.
Anshuman Das, programme manager with Sustainable Integrated Farming Systems (SIFS) programme at the South Asia office of Welthungerhilfe, a Germany-based non-profit, says the introduction of millet management in PDS is urgent to revive the traditional food culture in India. “Indian food was never about just wheat and rice. But the green revolution made it so. If millets are promoted and managed under PDS, it will help revive the traditional nutritional food habits in various parts of the country.”

SIFS aims to mobilise existing government programmes to provide support to small and marginal farmers for integrating traditional and sustainable agricultural practices along with agro-forestry, common land regeneration and livestock management. “Sixty to 65 per cent of the agriculture land in India is rainfed. With climate change the productivity of such land is going down and down. Millets are climate resilient and need less water. If millets are promoted under PDS, the utility of land will grow manyfold,” added Das.

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