In the backdrop of change in the climate pattern severely impacting agriculture in the region, farmers in Manipur's Ukhrul district have picked climate resilient millet crop as one of their viable alternatives to cope with crop failure.
Farmers in various areas of the state have reportedly witnessed a sharp decline in paddy yield this year. As per reports culled from various farmers, as many as 80 to 90 per cent of their paddy and other seasonal crops yield declined by 40 to 50 per cent.
As a fallout of surging climate change patterns, vegetables and crops were found to have died, infested with insects and pests.
With the majority of the crops, especially paddy, likely to be exhausted before next harvest, a viable alternative is urgently needed to tide over the pressing issue facing them as it is their main source of livelihood.
The decision to take up millet cultivation came following various climate-based programmes initiated for farmers of the state by the Directorate of Environment & Climate Change, Government of Manipur in collaboration with different departments and experts.
Millets are small-grained, annual, all-season cereals which can be cultivated round the year, but best suited during the warm season.
Lakreichon Awungshi Wungsek, a farmer from Shirui village said that she had selected 100 tins (a local measuring unit) worth millet farm and hoped that this would immensely benefit the growers when vegetation and other crops were hit by the changing climate pattern.
Earlier, it was used by the poor people to tide over food shortages. It can be mixed with rice as a staple food. It was also used as breakfast given its sumptuous taste. Unfortunately, with less people growing this crop, today it has become very scarce, she pointed out.
Recently, people from Shirui, Tallui, Choithar and Lunghar villages, etc. besides those from Thoubal district participated in a one-day training programme on ‘Promotion and Cultivation of Millet, a climate resilient crop.
Retired agriculture officer L Sanatomba presented a lecture on ‘Significance of Millet’ while the subject matter specialist talked on ‘Plant Breeding and Genetics’. Dr Chuwang Hijam also spoke on ‘Package of Practices for Millet’.
Expressing concerns that millet crop is prone to bird attack, she appealed to the concerned authority to provide remedial measures to scare away the birds so that farmers have good harvest. Growers also use traditional scarecrows but they are not effective.
When this Imphal Free Press reporter approached the KVK Ukhrul concerning the millet crop they could not be reached.
Commenting on the government's plan for climate resilient millet crop, state agriculture officer Kh Nimaichand Singh said that the state Agriculture department KVK Thoubal has conducted adaptive trials of millets in its district.
A state scheme, ‘Promotion of millet’ is initiated by the state government under the state Agriculture Department in the year 2023.
In this regard, interested farmers are invited through print media for implementation of the programme and it includes interventions on production and its processing.
He further said that the department is undergoing the scheme for production in cluster farmer’s field during kharif, 2024 with the technology validated by ICAR, Lamphelpat, KVK, Thoubal and KVK, Bishnupur.
The interventions include cluster formation of farmers, farmers training programmes and exposure visits, accessibility to seeds, assistance for crop protection, capacity building on harvesting, etc, among others.
In relation to the International Year of Millet 2023, the Department organised an awareness programme and workshop on millets and published a table Calendar.
Apart from the state Agriculture department, others like the Directorate of Environment and Climate Change also undertook awareness and training programmes of farmers for promotion of millets under climate resilient agriculture, he added.
Meanwhile, a scientist who is familiar with millets said that millets are the “most suitable in tropical as well as sub-tropical regions” up to an altitude of 2100 m. It is a heat loving plant and for its germination the minimum temperature required is 8-100C. A mean temperature range of 27-290C during the growth period is best for proper development and good crop yield.
Millets are climate friendly as they can counter many of the adverse effects of climate change better than most other food crops. They grow in almost any type of soil, the scientist added.
Millets are small-grained, annual, all-season cereals which can be cultivated round the year, but best suited during the warm season. Millets are also called the nutri-cereals as they provide most of the nutrients required for normal functioning of the human body.
Millets are climate resilient and dry land cereals. They have low requirements of water and fertility when compared to other popular cereals like paddy, maize and wheat. They are highly tolerant to drought and other extreme conditions.
Millets are also referred to as a smart food for the future with high calcium, Zn, Fe, low glycemic index and free gluten. Various value added ready to eat products are also available.
In Manipur, traditionally they were grown sparsely as warm grain crops on jhums and in marginal and inferior soils of settled farms where it was not possible to grow rice.
Job’s Tear, a millet locally known as ‘Ngum’ in Tangkhul dialect; Shorghum as ‘Chana’ in Manipuri and ‘Sipaipa’ in Riangmei; and Finger millet as ‘Lan’ in Tangkhul dialect are grown in very small pockets of the state since many years back, he mentioned.
It may be mentioned that successful trials have been conducted by ICAR, Lamphelpat for Finger millet (Ragi), Pearl millet (Bajra) and Foxtail millets in Manipur.
With the prevailing scenario of climate change and its significance, millet is becoming more and more important day by day, in the state.
Meanwhile, erratic rainfall, long heat waves and decline in water source prominently surface in the region have been hugely impacting people's livelihood. Change in climate has led to increase in disaster, diseases, high temperatures, flood, drought etc.
As per the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), this year's monsoon rain (June -September) is recorded at 745.4mm against the normal rain of 851.3mm (64 years mean value).
Sharing her new venture, one Grace Thumrah, a farmer from Lunghar under Ukhrul assembly constituency said that millet is known to have several benefits.
It is sown in the months of March and April and harvested in the last part of June and July, she added.
In the last two, three decades, farmers extensively grew millet in addition to paddy. When climate change was an unknown factor, the yield from their field was abundant and they could save it for the next two to three years.
Millet cultivation requires more growers as it is prone to attack by birds. More the growers less the setbacks for the overall farmers, according to those familiar with it.