HYDERABAD: Millets have been a part of India’s traditional cuisine since ancient times. However, ever since the Green Revolution, rice and wheat have overtaken this humble food item in the race to our dining table. Now, with the rebranding of millets as a ‘superfood’ that is packed with nutrition, researchers and experts are working to put them back in your plate and in the process help distressed farmers.
The Indian Institute of Millet Research (IIMR) in Rajendranagar conducted a two-day National Millet Workshop that concluded on Wednesday. NGOs, farmers and producers from 13 states participated in the workshop where diverse issues were discussed, ranging from doubling farmers’ income to cooking millet-based dishes.
The earliest evidences of millets being a key ingredient in our diet was recorded in the Yajurveda texts. But, we have gradually forgotten its importance. “The Green Revolution, despite its many benefits, ignored millets and instead concentrated on rice and wheat. Now, there is no diversity in our food in terms of nutritional value. Our food habit is going in the negative direction,” says IIMR director Vilas A Tonapi.
“Apart from that, it’s beneficial for the farmers too. In this era of climate change, which has distorted our weather pattern, millets come as a redeemer for farmers. Millets can grow in areas with less than 350 mm of rainfall. What more? Farmers can complete the cultivation cycle within 70-100 days. So even if the monsoon fails, farmers are insured because they get some grain and fodder for their animals,” adds Tonapi.
The conference set various objective to boost cultivation and consumption of millets, including strategies to expand area under cultivation to non-traditional locales while also increasing consumption. The creation of 150 millet-farmer-producer organisations, which would provide processing units for cultivators, was also discussed.
Lesser known varieties
In Madhya Pradesh’s hilly Dindori district, the Baiga adivasis are known for practicing shifting cultivation. They cultivate in one area for three years, and then move to a new patch of land. When they come back to the original land in the fourth year, the land still bears fruit -- in the form of Shikiya millet.
Though Shikiya does not feature in the nine varieties available in the market, it’s a delicacy for the Baiga tribe and packed with nutrition.
According to studies, nutritional value of a mere 100 grams of Shikiya is equal to that of one pound of rice. Experts are now trying to make this millet more famous.