Millet is one of the oldest cultivated cereal crops in the world. It has been grown in Africa and Southeast Asia for thousands of years. This small-grain cereal can be used to make bread, beer, cereal and other dishes.
Although not a popular cereal as rice, wheat and oat; millets are now gaining significance as a future grain from the perspective of climate change and human health security.
Millet is easy to grow, much more versatile, and more climate-proof than rice or wheat. That’s why millet has been projected as the climate-proof, super crop of the future. Millet is possibly the best solution for “climate smart agriculture.”
2023: International Year of Millets
The UN has designated 2023 as the “International Year of Millets IYM).” The objectives of IYM are to: Enhance awareness of the contribution of millets to food security, Inspire stakeholders to improve sustainable production of millets, and Initiate action for increased research, development, and extension services to achieve the other two aims.
Advantages of Millet Cultivation
Millets have shorter cultivation cycles and are less cost-intensive compared to other grains. They are also climate-resilient and more suited to diverse agro-climatic conditions. Millets are not water- or input-intensive and are suitable for “climate smart agriculture” as the world would increasingly be facing the challenges of drought and its adverse impacts on agricultural crop yields.
Types of millets
Three types of millets are grown in India: sorghum (jowar), pearl millet (bajra), and finger millet (ragi).
The major millet-growing states include Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Haryana. It’s, at present, hardly grown in North East India (NEI), including Manipur.
Health Benefits of Millets
Millet is rich in vitamins such as niacin and beta-carotene. As it is low in content of simple carbohydrates and high in that of complex carbohydrates, millet may be considered a low glycemic index (GI) food. Thus, it may help diabetic individuals manage their blood sugar levels more easily.
The soluble fiber in millet may help reduce the amount of “bad cholesterol” in the blood. Cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease. Therefore, millets can help protect your heart (the vital organ that works non-stop throughout your entire life-span).
Millet may also boost the good gut microbes and improve digestive health. It is rich in dietary fibers-soluble and insoluble fibers. The insoluble fiber in millet acts as a prebiotic (food for probiotics-health-beneficial bacteria). Millet may help enhance eubiosis of your gut by supporting good bacteria in your gut. It may also add bulk to stools, thus reducing the risk of colon cancer.
In addition, millet is rich in potassium (supports healthy kidney and heart function), Vit. A, Vit. B, P, Ca, Fe and antioxidants.
Novel Cereals and Lifestyle Diseases
In India (and around the globe), malnutrition and obesity are co-existing. Lifestyle diseases are more prevalent in urban areas. This may be due to increased intake of fatty/oily/sugary/processed foods and lack of physical exercise and infrequent contact with ‘wild nature.” Malnutrition is more rampant in rural areas due to low intake of food/deprivation/hunger and poor maternal health.
As obesity and other lifestyle disorders are increasing very rapidly, we need to experiment with fiber-rich cereals such as millets.
Moreover, as the world will increasingly be ravaged by the vagaries of climate change such as drought, heat, flooding, salinity and increased attack of crops by pests and pathogens, we need to expand the cultivation of novel grains such as millets across the world.
Salient Features of Millets
India is the leading producer of millets in the world. Some salient features of millets are as follows:
1. Millets have better drought and insect tolerance compared to other crops
2. They have more fiber per serving than rice, wheat etc.
3. They may grow in harsh environments and infertile soils
4. They can also release oxygen while consuming maximum levels of carbon dioxide from the air (thus mitigating climate change)
The world is going to celebrate 2023 as the “International Year of Millets.” These small-grain cereals are easier to grow, need lower inputs, and are more climate-resilient. Therefore, to ensure the food security of the global population (projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050). We need to diversify our grain production, as we cannot put all the eggs in one basket.
If the world faces a serious drought in the near future, the global population will face the dire consequences of hunger, malnutrition, death and even civil war, if we solely depend on wheat, rice, and oat.
It’s high time we promote millet cultivation in unreached areas of the world, including Manipur.
(The views expressed are personal)