With the climate change now a proven reality and creating havoc for Indian agricultural sector, there is an imminent need to bring in environment friendly farming practices to meet the need of the ever-growing health conscious Indian population. With the droughts and non-seasonal rains becoming the order of the day, the hapless farmer is now frantically looking for solutions that will help him sustain his livelihood, produce huge quantity of crops organically with minimum hurt to the environment and at the same time meeting the country’s food demand. This is what is now taking the farmers back in time and rediscovering the benefits of sustainable organic agricultural practice of finger millets (ragi) which are nothing less than power-packed wonder food.
Since millets require little water and are highly drought resistant, they grow well in arid and semi-arid regions and in dry areas. Further, millets are relatively resistant to pests and pathogens, compared to cereals.
Nutritional Profile of Finger Millet:
Source: Nutritive value of Indian Foods, National Institute of Nutrition, Millet Network of India and USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) – Values per 100 grams of edible portion
The nutritionally venerated millets had struggled to catch priority spot in government policy, projects and schemes tracing back to 1958 with a feeble presence in the millet policy structure, until 2011 when the first scheme was launched focusing on production of millets. Equal attributes to private sector as their ready to eat and ready to serves products’ supply chains focused on cereals, wrecking millet-based production systems.
It is the nutrition value and associated health-benefits of millets appreciated through consumer groups affected by alarming dietary diseases, that have shifted the focus back to finger millets flooding supermarket shelves with product lines focusing on diet-based food products. Cultivation of finger millets is catching up amongst the farmers due to their drought resistant capability and minimal requirements of inputs like water. Finger Millets are smart having multiple untapped uses such as food, feed, biofuels and brewing which will benefit future generations of farmers as well as consumers. The government now too realizes this and is making efforts to promote millets on a large scale. In this direction, the government has declared 2018 as the National Year of Millets to boost production of the nutrient-rich millets and the agricultural industry involved in it. Observation of Year of Millets will help in promoting production and consumption of finger millets and substantially contribute in fight against targeted hunger and mitigate effect of climate change in the long run.
In India, Karnataka is one of the leading states in area under finger millet cultivation which is about 3492 (58.72 per cent) thousand hectares during 2010-15, followed by Maharashtra 613 (10.31 per cent) thousand hectares, Uttarakhand 602.7 (10.13 per cent) thousand hectares, Tamil Nadu 451.9 (7.60 per cent) thousand hectares, Odisha 26.5 (4.82 per cent) thousand hectares and Andhra Pradesh 193 (3.25 per cent) thousand hectares. Thanks to Karnataka government’s policy initiative which alters the way of promoting millets in consumer food plates, prioritising millets and bringing them under Public Distribution Systems (PDS), Odisha government walking the same path, went ahead by inclusion of finger millet products in mid-day meal programs. This is a perfect time to be in the finger millet business and create markets for millets across India and specifically in metro cities, where there is huge demand from consumers.
There are, however, a few roadblocks that stand in the way of finger millet cultivation and marketing. For one, finger millets have a lower yield per hectare than rice and wheat, making them less profitable than those popular crops for farmers. Various breeds of finger millets especially for processing qualities have to be developed. System of Millet Intensification (SMI) is one of the production systems adopted by Pragati an NGO in Koraput district of Odisha which resulted in higher production of finger millets, contributing to the food and nutritional security of the tribal households in Koraput, even under extreme weather conditions. Under this system seven varieties of indigenous seeds of finger millets were promoted. India being the largest exporter of millets (most varieties) now has a large potential for domestic market. Online organic e-commerce stores are a catalyst for pushing consumption of finger millets. Improvement in the pricing and marketing by taking into consideration various factors like quality, regional use, and availability of market outlets will go a long way to boost finger millet production as a commercially viable crop. Popularizing the consumption of finger millet in diverse uses – porridge, bread, cakes, biscuits in schools, training institutions, school feeding programs, hospital canteens especially for HIV/AIDS and TB patients and traditional dishes in hotel industry will be another strategic plan for wide utilization of the crop. The Organic and Millets National Trade Fair along with nationwide promotion of finger millets as healthy food grains at the same time motivating farming sector with climate resilient crop to shield from extremities of climate, is now a win-win situation for finger millets which will pull the consumer demand and push the crop production.
Author: Intercooperation Social Development India
 Annual Report by Agricultural department, Government of India