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Millets to Ensure Food and Nutritional Security of Indigenous Communities

Special Edition on International Year of Millets 2023 - Climate-Resilient Crops

Changing trends toward bringing back millet into our food systems

Millets have been an integral part of everyday diets of indigenous communities in Odisha. Millet crops are climate-resilient, and capable of growing in rainfed/dryland conditions with low water requirements. They are the source of food security for the small and marginal farmers residing in fragile agro-ecological regions of Odisha. Also, they are highly nutritious. Indigenous communities, traditionally have been practicing mixed farming and crop rotation, which are best suited to the local agroecology. These cropping patterns have stood the test of time and extreme weather variabilities. Sustenance of such agricultural systems will be the key to address the climate change issues locally and globally. 

Traditionally, millets like ragi, kodo, suan, kosala, kangu, gurji, etc., have been cultivated and the lines maintained by farmers using organic approach. Not too long ago, even until about 20-25 years, millets were widely cultivated in many parts of India including the eastern ghats. These include Jowar (Sorghum vulgare), Pearl millet (Pennisetum typhoides), Little millet (Panicum sumatrense) Proso millet (Panicum miliare), Barnyard millet (Eichinochloa sp.), Foxtail millet (Setaria italica), Kodo millet (Paspalum scrobiculatum), and Ragi (Eluesine coracana).  Among these, ragi, a minor millet, is more predominant in terms of acreage. Millets are grown on poor soils with little water-holding capacity and are dependent on monsoons for production. 

Tribals practice shifting cultivation on medium and uplands along the hill slopes, where the crop is cultivated from June to September.  Millets have been the main source of food and nutrition for tribal communities. Changes in daily dietary patterns have been observed since the last two decades with more rural households preferring rice, which is readily available under the Public Distribution System (PDS). A report by the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad states that compared to rice, these crops have better mineral, protein, fat, and minerals content as compared to rice. Additionally, iron content in millets is crucial for fighting malnutrition and anemia, largely prevalent in the region. 

Today, there is a drive to make Ragi popular due to its relevance as a health-promoting food in urban areas. This in turn is gradually elevating its status as a staple food in society compared to earlier times when its consumption was linked to poverty and backwardness.  However, by taking a complete commercial approach for the cultivation of millets, the crop may slowly become a monoculture of a few varieties like the other cereal crops like wheat, rice and maize. This can lead to loss of crop diversity and in situ evolution with climate change. It would also put the crop at risk of being lost during any natural calamity, disease or pest incidence. Thus, strategies to maintain land races are required in parallel. 

Also read:

Agriculture, animal husbandry, and forestry 

Extreme weather variabilities and Climate change has impacted the local crops and livelihoods of local indigenous communities. Impacts are seen on changes in landuse pattern, crop planning, crop production, yields, emergence of pests and diseases (Giant African Snails, stem borer, different bacterial and fungus diseases like Blight, Wilting disease, etc.), changes in cropping patterns, distress migration and livelihoods of local Kondh communities. Communities are aware of the changes in weather and climate over the last two decades. 

Temperatures have risen over the last ten years (>1.4 degrees Celsius). The change in weather variabilities and soil conditions over the last two decades (after the Super Cyclone in 1999, Titli in 2012) have effectuated a few shifts and changes in local farming practices including changes in land-use pattern and traditional agriculture systems. Some of the other extreme weather variabilities include delay in onset of South-west monsoons, high intensity short duration rainfall, erratic rainfall, prolonged dry spells, high variability in diurnal temperatures (day and night temperatures), epidemic outbreak in cattle and livestock, etc., thus resulting in adversely affecting food production and productivity, reduction in milk production and yields, water systems and local biodiversity, etc. 

The frequency and recurrence of natural disasters like droughts, flash floods and cyclones have increased in Kandhamal over the last two decades, affecting people’s livelihoods, agriculture and allied sectors. People are experiencing warmer weather even during winter months. There is very little disaster preparedness among the reference communities in Daspalla and Tumudibandha Blocks on natural disasters and Climate change. 

Subsistence farming is practiced by a majority of farmers for household-level consumption. Only 10-20% of the farm produce is sold in the local haats (markets) / shandies. Shifting cultivation, or slash-and-burn agriculture, is the primary source of food for the tribal communities in the area. The Kondhs call it “dongar chas” or “podu chas”.

The practice of shifting cultivation through slash and burn is seen here. The rotational cycles to cultivate on the same patch of the land has reduced from 3 to 5 years to every alternate year. Sometimes it creates huge forest fires, but this huge forest fires are not that common and has not been reported continuously. 

The major crops cultivated in the shifting cultivation system are minor millets like ragi (finger millet), kosala (Little millet), kangu with arhar as an intercrop. These crops are cultivated during the Kharif season (June to September). The average size of podu landholdings is 0.5-3 acres along hill slopes. No manure or chemical fertilizers are used by Kondh farmers in the shifting cultivation system. 

Seeds of local varieties of minor millets like Ragi – Muskul, Sika, Bodo Mandia, Taya, Sano Mandia, Kontamita, Dussera, Muskul, Sika, Kongora, KMR 204 etc are cultivated by local communities in Nayagarh and Kandhamal districts. Other Minor millets like Suan, Kangu, Kerwa, Kodo, Kosala etc., are also grown by local communities in Nayagarh and Kandhamal districts. Local communities consume these varieties of Ragi in their daily diets along with rice, greens, chilly and salt. 

Crop diversity, production and productivity of food crops, decreased production of Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) and horticultural crops have been reported by local communities, especially, during the last two decades.

millet seeds Millets to Ensure Food and Nutritional Security of Indigenous Communities
Daspalla Seed festival, Nayagarh (Source – Author)

Collection and sale of NTFPs, casual labour and remittances from migrants are primary sources of income other than agriculture. They also earn a living by selling livestock. Distress sale of livestock is fairly common. The average household income for a rural household in the region varies between INR 5,500 to INR 30,000.

During the last two years, (COVID period, over 80% of rural households have taken loans or have mortgaged their valuables like gold and household utensils to tide over the crisis. Wages from the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme provide the mainstay for many households. Poor households belonging to old people, widows and persons with disability receive monthly pensions.

Rural households are heavily dependent of the Re.1 subsidized Rice supplied by the State Government for their subsistence.  A majority of the rural households (over 80% HHs) in Kandhamal district experience food insecurity for over 3 to 5 months in a year. The food scare/hunger periods are during August, September and October months.

High rates of child malnourishment (over 23 %), anaemia (over 50 %) observed among women and children. Dietary diversity is poor among most tribal households. “Mandia Pej” (Ragi gruel) and rice and Saag (green leafy vegetables), salt and green chillies are mostly taken as breakfast, lunch and dinner. Mostly carbohydrates are consumed by the people. Very less amount of lentils, milk and meat are taken by the people.

The major source of income for the local communities is through agriculture labour, the sale of Siali (Bauhinia vahli) and Sal leaf (Shorea robusta) plates and small poultry and Goats and remittance from migrants. Sudden glut of agriculture and NTFPs is seen in the region, resulting to distress sale of most agricultural produce and NTFPs. There is limited cold storage facilities are present in the Block/District. 

Local communities are dependent on the forest for over 6 months a year for food, fodder, building materials, medicines, fuel wood etc. Local communities fear the Forest department authorities and collect limited NTFPs from the forest. Middlemen are engaged in collection, processing and sale of major agricultural produce and NTFPs and take away most of the profit. Farmers and primary collectors rarely get profit from their hard work. Most rural households are engaged in making leaf cups and leaf plates stitched out of Siali and Sal leaves. 

Distress migration is a reality for most poor households in Kandhamal (migration is seen one in every three households). Seasonal out-migration is seen. Mostly the adult members migrate out for gainful employment opportunities both within and outside the State. Mostly, the male members migrate out during August/September and return in February the following year before the main cultivation season (Kharif).

Most migrations take place between July-August and November-December when the community waits to harvest. These are food-scarce months. Mostly the men migrate out. A majority of the migrants move to Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to work in brick kilns and to Kerala to work in stone-crushing units, rubber and tea plantations. Remittances ranging between INR 3,000 and INR 12,000 are sent by migrant family members and are used for buying basic provisions by the family left behind. Last year’s lockdown to curb the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic prevented many migrant workers from returning to their villages, stripping their families of even this measly income.

The propaganda about millets is on the rise with events being organized in many places and venues being echoed with their significance. To protect these precious resources by the Government, private sector and civil society, the Government has pledged support for cultivation of millets along with providing inputs in terms of irrigation facilities, seed supply and incentives for cultivation. 

Normally, millets require less chemical inputs and are also resistant to pests and diseases. Thus avoiding pesticides or minimizing their use in the scenario of increased acreage under millets would be one of the best strategies to adopt rather than treating it as a fully commercial product, thereby making its cultivation expensive with high external inputs. However, the low requirement of agricultural inputs like fertilizers and pesticides for these crops also means that the companies traditionally associated with selling these commodities show little interest in cultivation of millets. On the other hand, at times, they tend to discourage farmers from taking up these crops.

Thus, the non-involvement of commercial enterprises also has weakened the advocacy of cultivation of these crops in the public fora. However, there is a growing interest in the revival of millet cultivation owing to its several benefits, proactively promoted by the Millets Mission, local NGOs and Farmer’s Organizations in Odisha. 

Owing to the growing demand by urban consumers, there have been several efforts by the Government of Odisha through the Millets Mission and local NGOs to popularize it through higher production, processing, value addition, packaging and branding. Cuisines from millets have become a new trend in urban areas. 

Reviving indigenous farming practices, in the year 2012, NIRMAN started its work with local indigenous communities promoting mixed, biodiverse and sustainable agriculture practices and ecological farming. As a first step, Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) exercise was conducted in all the villages to collect baseline information. Information on various aspects like household income, status of indigenous agriculture practices followed, extent of seed diversity etc. To motivate the communities to revive their indigenous agricultural practices, a village level meeting was organized to discuss issues related to erosion of the indigenous crop diversity, indigenous agriculture practices and sustainable agriculture. 

ragi Millets to Ensure Food and Nutritional Security of Indigenous Communities
Ragi (PC – Author)

Training on millet-based mixed farming were conducted during the first year of project intervention and in the second year, training on sustainable agricultural practices was conducted at the village level. Women were encouraged to practice mixed farming in an effort to revive the indigenous mixed and biodiverse farming system. Restoring seed diversity was focused. The major strategy of our intervention was to promote women-led approaches, to assert their control over food production system and to conserve indigenous agro-biodiversity. 

Village meetings were conducted with women and Village Level Institutions (VLIs) were promoted. Around 21 VLIs were formed and the members were trained on millet-based community seed banks and their management. The community-based seed banks are expected to fulfill the seed requirement of the community. Currently around 27 community-based seed banks have been formed, supporting around 600 farmers in 27 villages. Heirloom seed requirement for the community was assessed. Heirloom seeds of 12 indigenous crops of local choice were supplied to local communities as one-time seed-capital, for conservation. These 12 crop varieties were revived within one cropping season. 

Presently, the community-based seed banks have been maintaining heirloom seeds of 55 indigenous crops, which include millets, maize, pulses, vegetables and edible tubers. Communities now cultivate 7 varieties of indigenous paddy, 6 varieties of indigenous maize, 3 varieties of finger millet, 3 varieties of little millet, 2 varieties of barnyard millet, 2 varieties of pearl millet, 3 varieties of foxtail millet, 2 varieties of sorghum, 4 varieties of pigeon pea, 2 varieties of cow pea, 3 varieties of rice bean, 4 varieties of country bean, 2 varieties of black gram, horse gram and 17 types of edible tubers, under the millets-based mixed farming system. 

millet storage Millets to Ensure Food and Nutritional Security of Indigenous Communities
Dulli (Storage structure)

Communities also cultivate 3 varieties of castor, 2 varieties of mustard, along with niger and sesame, 7 types of vegetables, 17 types of edible tubers, 2 varieties of turmeric, ginger, garlic, chilly peppers, onions and few other locally known coarse grains and pulses. Women farmers have been playing a major role in the revival of indigenous crops, management of community-based seed banks and conservation of the indigenous agro-biodiversity.

Indigenous women store the seeds for cultivation in the next growing season. Seeds are stored in local seed storage structures like “Dullies”, “Puda” and in earthen pots hung over the kitchen. There are specific methods of storage in the house. Seeds are generally not disturbed by shifting from one place to another. 

Gaining rights over land is another challenging issue plaguing the forest dwellers is the non-recognition of rights over part of customarily used cultivated land and entire community resources. Since women are key to farming, efforts have been made to facilitate legal recognition of local communities’ rights over the customarily used individual lands. These lands are also suitable for millets-based farming systems. Village-level meetings were conducted for the local communities on provisions of the Forest Right Act, 2006 (FRA), and procedures for filing claims over the lands. The entire process was initiated with the support of community volunteers. A total of 89 households received individual land rights over customarily used land. Women were given joint ownership of individual land titles. 

Around 15 Kutia Kondh villages have been issued community rights over community forest resources. Recognition of right in individual and community land/ resources is expected to strengthen their stake over resources, necessary for food production and food sovereignty. Earlier, in remote villages, women had the knowledge of conservation and storage of seeds and this empowered them at home as well as in the community. Of late, as their husbands started using hybrid seeds, most of the seed preservation knowledge was lost.

NIRMAN works on both sides – “Demand” and “Supply”, promoting local best varieties of food crops (including Minor Millets, Paddy, Pulses, Oilseeds, Vegetables etc.), promote mixed cropping systems and supporting sustainable agriculture, promote agriculture and NTFP value chains, linking farmers with the markets, where private sector actors can play a major role in the supply chain for supporting sustainable agriculture. Also, both the organizations can support and promote “On-Farm” and “Off-Farm” livelihoods. Investments have been committed under projects to support adaptation measures in the sectors of agroecology, resource endowments and human capability development.

The benefits to farmers in their livelihoods and well-being by cultivating millets

meeting millet Millets to Ensure Food and Nutritional Security of Indigenous Communities
Recognition of women farmers (PC – Author)

Major minor millets cultivated in the region are being further promoted by NIRMAN and this has got a new fillip under the Millet Mission project. Minor millets are grown for 2-3 months during the Kharif season. Most of the small and marginal farmers who cultivate the highlands, prefer to grow paddy for reasons of food security. Partial substitution of paddy with alley cropping (Mixed cropping) is considered to be more appropriate measure to achieve crop diversification. Mixed cropping of different combinations of crops is therefore being popularized. Steps are also being taken to cover some of these lands by very early and early varieties of food crops including millets. 

Some of the women in Nayagarh and Kandhamal districts have clearly articulated the various challenges in the cultivation of minor millets in the region. There has been a drastic reduction in the area under cultivation of minor millets and also a reduction in yields of the crops. This reduction is to the tune of 25-30% of the cultivated area and almost a third in the reduction of crop yields, over the last two decades. The major reasons attributed include the non-availability of local indigenous varieties of seeds, restrictions to undertake “Podu chas” on the hill slopes by the forest department, high human interference, large-scale deforestation and accelerated soil erosion. 

NIRMAN has supported farmers’ groups for the processing of minor millets like provisioning of millets processing units including solar based in remote tribal hinterlands. The women’s groups are involved in millet the aggregation, processing, packaging and marketing of the millets to earn a better income (over double the raw produce).

Are farmers secured by shifting to millet farming? 

image Millets to Ensure Food and Nutritional Security of Indigenous Communities
Minor millets (Ragi) cultivation in Odisha (PC – K. Jagannath Jena)

Food security from own crop production is for 3 to 4 months for most farmers in Koraput-Balangir-Kalahandi (KBK) districts. A majority of the poorest households are dependent on the Re. 1 Rice, which is a lifeline for over 90% of poor households in the Block. The government of Odisha provides Rice @ One Rupee per kilo gram @ 5 Kg per person per month. Combining their own production and the government-supplied rice, rural households are just able to manage their food requirements in the family. Farmers in KBK districts are food insecure for almost 4-6 months in a year. The area under minor millets has been systematically reduced over the past three decades. 

A variety of landraces of traditional/desi varieties of Minor Millets are either not cultivated or have become extinct. Over 80 % of the farmers are smallholder farmers having land holdings less than 2.5 acres. They mostly cultivate Paddy, Minor Millets, Vegetables, Ginger and Turmeric under rainfed conditions during the Kharif season. Food production is mainly for household-level consumption (Subsistence farming). Only a small portion (10-20%) of the farm produce is for sale in local haats/shandies. Mixed farming is practiced with Minor millet, Pulses, and Vegetables. The cropping pattern in KBK districts has remained the same for the last three decades. Paddy-fallow; Minor Millets-fallow; Paddy-Pulses; Paddy-Vegetables.

However, the food-scarce months/periods are from August-October. Migration is reported mainly for economic reasons. Most farmers (90%) preserve their own seeds for sowing in the next growing season in the district. Desi varieties are found only with a few big farmers in the district. Crop production and productivity are less for most field crops compared to the State and National average. Limited soil and water conservation/management practices. 

COVID aftermath

  • High levels of indebtedness among rural households. Over 80% of rural households are indebted and have taken loans from family, relatives, and landlords. Women have mortgaged their gold and valuables to run the family (COVID period). 
  • Lack of liquid cash among most households during the last two years.

Value-addition initiatives by the Government under the Odisha Millets Mission

Setting up decentralized Processing facilities: The absence of modern processing facilities is identified as one of the major bottlenecks in the revival of millets. It is envisaged that promoting processing facilities helps in easy access to millet grains. The processing facilities to be promoted in a Block include:

A) At least one Processing Unit/enterprise per cluster of villages/ GPs that includes de-huller, de-stoner, pulveriser, etc.

B) At least one pulveriser (particularly for Ragi) per Gram Panchayat.

  • It is expected that by successfully establishing of such enterprises may kick-start local enterprises and encourage household-level consumption. It is envisaged that with experience and increasing production within the Block, larger processing facilities will get established by private partners.

Custom Hiring Centres (Appropriate Farm Mechanization): Establishing custom hiring centres for implements, machines, and post-harvest operations (clean millet harvests) at a cluster of Gram Panchayats. These include a range of useful equipment with drudgery reduction tools for suitable crop management based on needs of the community such as cycle weeders, sprayers, pump sets, irrigation equipment, threshers, bio manure preparation containers, sieves, fencing materials, etc.

How are millets entering into food distribution systems as nutritious alternatives?

Raw Organic Healthy Millet
Raw Organic Healthy Millet

Millets are now procured by the Government under the Odisha Millets Mission. There is an MSP for Ragi. However, no MSP has yet been set up by the Government for other types of millet. The millets are now part of the PDS and MDM schemes in the state, though on a pilot basis. Millets are also sold at Government outlets in various towns and cities. Agriculture produces like minor millets and NTFPs are mainly sold in local shandies or “Haats” at small towns, Gram Panchayat Headquarters, and Block Headquarters. There are only a few Government marketing agencies and very few private companies like ORMAS and TRIFED, Mission Shakti/OLM is the major Government marketing agency. Local communities have limited awareness and knowledge about Market information and Marketing channels. 

There are issues with Low Minimum Support Price (MSP) for most NTFPs. This has not been revised for a long (over three decades). Also, issues of non-procurement of agricultural produce and NTFPs by Government agencies still exist. 

The Storage facilities such as Cold Storage facilities, Godowns, etc., for agricultural produce and NTFPs is minimal at the community level and also at the Gram Panchayat, Block, and district level. Distress sale of agricultural produce was reported by the farmers. Farmers have limited or no information on market prices, crop loans, and crop insurance. Value-addition initiatives like sorting, processing, packaging, branding, etc., are minimal or non-existent. There is a lack of skill, knowledge, and facilities for this. 

How are the millet markets, both domestic and international, evolving?

Traders and middlemen procure the agriculture produce from the haats from both within and outside the state. Marketing is a major problem/challenge for most agricultural produce and NTFPs in the state. 

International marketing of such produce is just evolving and a few civil society actors have started to link up with international consumers recently using digital marketing channels especially in countries like Germany. However, limited market actors are available there. 

Women play an important role in agriculture. Women are engaged in most (over 70%) of the agricultural activities like sowing, transplanting, weeding, irrigation, intercultural operations, harvesting, cleaning/winnowing, thrashing, seed storage, primary processing, etc., apart from undertaking their regular household chores. Women own very little land (less than 12%) due to patriarchal society when it comes to the ownership of land and property resources. Differential wages are paid to women and men agricultural workers across the region. Women are paid less than their men counterparts (Men – INR 250; Women INR 200).

NIRMAN supports and promote young people with viable agriculture and allied-based enterprises and linking them with private companies for procurement and marketing. These can be supported in specific agriculture production clusters in Nayagarh and Kandhamal districts like Siali (Bauhinia vahli) leaves, Ginger, Turmeric, Sal leaves, Vegetables, apiculture (honey), Small poultry, Goattery, etc. NIRMAN engages with private sector actors on the need to support and promote ecological farming in Odisha where it is a WIN-WIN situation both for the farming communities and private sector companies and actors. 

NIRMAN envisages taking up the responsibility of “Systems Strengthening” for better efficiency and outreach of the Government development schemes and programmes, entitlements, benefits and services to the local communities. This would necessitate working in close co-ordination with Government authorities and frontline staff at local, Gram Panchayat, Block, and District level.

Millet’s data of 2021-22, NIRMAN, Odisha:

SNBlockNo of village coveredNo of farmers involvedTotal area covered (in Ha.)Total surplus ragi procured (through TDCC)Total money  received through Procurement (in INR)Total incentive transferred to the farmers account (INR)
3Dasapalla (1st Yr.)22496190.95001699659

How are the research and policy creating an environment for the promotion of millets?

Millets are a rich source of nutrition and ideally suited for addressing the issues of hunger and malnutrition. However, government policies directed at providing nutrition in the region may indirectly promote monocultures, resulting in the decline of biodiversity, leading to a different kind of malnutrition. It is therefore important to design strategies that encourage the cultivation of millets using traditional methods that are best suited to local agroecology.

The agriculture policy of Odisha, with a high tribal population susceptible to maternal and child malnutrition, falls short of commitment towards the promotion of millets, in contrast to the long-term objectives of reducing malnutrition. Odisha, with a high tribal population susceptible to maternal and child malnutrition, falls short of commitment towards the promotion of millets, in contrast to the long-term objectives of reducing malnutrition.

NIRMAN believes that the policy and advocacy work need to be people-centered and evidence-based. Lobby and advocacy work can be undertaken in close collaboration with like-minded NGOs, State and National level networks, alliances and social movements at the local, state, national and international for a like the Right to Food and Work campaign etc. NIRMAN undertakes policy influencing work with “Rights Holders” and “Duty Bearers”, including the State and National Government and the reference marginalized communities and their associations.

NIRMAN works towards empowerment the local communities on the major Government development schemes and flagship programmes pertaining to food security and nutrition like PDS, Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), Mid Day Meals (MDM), POSHAN 2.0 (National Nutrition Mission), major social security schemes like Old Age Pension (OAP), widow pensions, and special schemes for PWDs, systems strengthening of Maternal and Child sector and the Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). These would be crucial for ensuring food and livelihood security of poorest households and most vulnerable communities.

Some of the proactive measures of the Odisha Millets Mission

odisha Millets to Ensure Food and Nutritional Security of Indigenous Communities
Odisha Millets Mission

Odisha became the first state to declare direct incentive to farmers for three years through DBT; first state to develop standard specifications for the minor millet machinery through a recognized panel of experts from different scientific institutions; Odisha is one of the pioneering states to include Ragi laddu in ICDS; first state in the country to complete benchmarking of prices of little millet and foxtail millet; Odisha received award for best government initiative on millet promotion by MoFPI-IIFPT; Odisha is the third state to distribute millets in PDS in the country.

Policy changes needed

Policy changes need to address infrastructure development in the regions growing millets, or else the implementation of techniques like System of Millet Intensification (SMI) and line sowing will become cost-ineffective for farmers. Besides, the cultivation of several varieties must be encouraged and practiced. 

  • The government has included millets in the public distribution system and supplementary nutrition programs on a pilot basis in Odisha. However, there is a need to scale up these initiatives at the State level. It should further incentivize farmers to grow millets and practice mixed cropping, besides providing financial support for their processing, storage, and marketing. 
  • Specific value-addition practices, like grading, sorting, cleaning, processing, and packaging should be supported. The government should promote millet marketing through the State Livelihood Mission and non-profits must organize special camps in rural areas. 
  • Overexploitation of groundwater resources for plantation crops needs to be curbed to help the maximum possible production of millets. 
  • Mixed cropping, intercropping, and crop rotation models should be promoted, adopting organic farming techniques, especially in KBK districts. 
  • The government should devise policies to promote millets so that implementation takes into consideration the health and economic status of the farming community, besides marketing millets as a healthy food in areas where the holdings are marginal. Otherwise, a skewed and blanket policy could push farmers in traditional areas to increase expenditure on health, which would largely offset any benefits of implementing newer technologies.
  • The State Government has also announced the distribution of forest patta on a Mission mode by 2024. This open up a whole set of opportunity to facilitate local forest communities to access and claim Individual Forest Rights (IFR) and Community Forest Rights (CFR) land titles. Getting ownership of land will open up a whole set of opportunities for the cultivation of food crops including millets in the State.
  • Community-level monitoring of food and nutrition schemes and programmes will be crucial for the sustainability of the project interventions. The interaction with different government authorities gave confidence that they will welcome such kind of efforts and they will join their hands. It depends upon the local organization to build a meaningful relationship with them and make the project sustainable. 
  • Compulsory maintenance of landraces by Government and seed-producing companies. This will help in maintaining biodiversity, creates possibility for selection for better nutrition and taste qualities and lowers burden on farmers for landrace maintenance. 
  • Limiting acreage under orchard crops/commercial crops as a percentage of land holding for farmers with larger holdings. This will promote a healthy balance in the environment and ensures diversity. It also ensures nutrition security and helps farmers with more income. While tree crops ensure a good financial support system for the farmers, they may be more vulnerable to climatic extremities and pest attacks. Thus, proper management practices and planning needs to be undertaken, so that both trees, as well as millet crops, are grown.  Otherwise, short-term financial gains may be largely offset by the effects of climate change in future. Also, the failure of tree crops and loss of varieties of millets may only aggravate the problems of the farmers while dealing with negative impacts of climate change. 
  • Involving private sector companies in promoting millet. Preservation of landraces by the companies. E.g., Horlicks produces millet-based food products. However, this may promote monoculture. Use of health supplements may lead to improved health of women/children. With rural areas changing into urban food habits, this ensures millet consumption and a better market for products.
  • Inclusion of millets in the PDS, Mid Day Meal (MDM) scheme and procure from local sources and scaling it up at the State level will be important. This will maintain local production and help provide for better nutrition to children and retain their habit of consumption of millets. This also has a readymade market for the produce. Also, farmer need not have to struggle for selling his produce. 
  • Prevalence of low Minimum Support Price (MSP) for most food crops including millets and NTFPs in Odisha. The Government policies directed at providing nutrition in the region may indirectly be promoting the decline of millets and leading to a different kind of malnutrition while alleviating hunger in the region. 
  • Tribal farmers, traditionally have been practicing mixed farming and crop rotation, which are best suited to the local agroecology. These cropping patterns have stood the test of time and climate variabilities. Such traditional cropping systems need to be supported and promoted. Sustenance of such agricultural systems will be the key to address the climate change issues locally. 
  • While tree crops ensure a good financial support system for the farmers, they may be more vulnerable to climatic extremities and pest attacks. Thus, proper management practices and planning need to be undertaken, so that both trees, as well as millet crops, are grown. Otherwise, short-term financial gains may be largely offset by the effects of climate change in future. Also, the failure of tree crops and the loss of varieties of millet may only aggravate the problems of the farmers while dealing with negative impacts of climate change. 
  • Women play a major role in both the fight against climate change and in eradicating chronic hunger and malnutrition. The bondage between millets and women in these tribal tracts is indispensable in this regard and cannot be broken. The fine line between substituting wealth for health needs to be precisely defined so that this region that suffers from endemic malnutrition does not further slip into health-related problems.

It is therefore important to design strategies to encourage the cultivation, maintenance, and propagation of local varieties of millets in the region with good marketing strategies so that their cultivation is comparable to cash crops. The inclusion of tree crops in the system has benefitted the farmers and is well appreciated for helping them come out of the poverty trap.

However, emphasis should now be laid on educating them about the importance of continuous cultivation of minor millets in the ensuing climate change situation. Tribal farmers, traditionally have been practicing mixed farming and crop rotation, which are best suited to the local agroecology. These cropping patterns have stood the test of time and climate variabilities. Such traditional cropping systems need to be supported and promoted. Sustenance of such agricultural systems will be the key to address the climate change issues locally.

These policy options may help to maintain enough landraces for in situ evolution in view of imminent climate change. This may also mitigate the prevalent malnutrition to some extent by making nutritious sources like millet available to the poor in this region.  It is time to start understanding that eradication of hunger may not be the final goal post in ensuring healthy communities. In this region, malnutrition needs to be given equal emphasis. 

Way Forward

Odisha has about 20 districts with mountainous and hilly terrain that is suitable for the cultivation of Ragi and other millets. These regions are also home to tribes, in need of nutrition. Thus, propagating and encouraging these crops would benefit the local communities immensely. Current policies and implementation are at best lip service to the declining cultivation of millets. Without any proactive steps undertaken for increasing the area under these crops or any efforts to resuscitate the varieties going extinct, we would lose precious resources for fighting against climate change-induced food shortage. The immediate action points may include the following: 

  • In situ” Conservation and promotion of local indigenous seeds/landraces of millets.
  • Organizing Seed cum Food festivals.
  • Setting up of community-owned and managed seed banks and grain banks.
  • More focus on promoting other minor millets like Kosala, Kangu, Suan, Kodo, Gurji apart from Ragi. This includes advocacy work with the Government, especially the Odisha Millets Mission. 
  • Establishment and promotion of Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs): Comprehensive revival of millets in a Block requires service delivery. The community/ farmers’ level institutional base varies from Block to Block. It is envisaged that FPOs are organized one per Block, keeping long-term sustainability and delivery of services.
  • Advocating for setting up Minimum support price (MSP) and Government procurement for all the minor millets.
  • Setting up of Siali leaves processing Units.
  • Support to women SHGs with Millet processing Units, including convergence with Odisha Millets Mission benefits.
  • More focus on training and capacity development of small and marginal farmers, especially women farmers on ecological farming.
  • More focus on value addition and marketing.
  • More focus on inclusion aspects like Landless households, widows, women-headed households, old people without caregivers, People with Disability (PWDs), Dalit communities, etc. 

According to Maharana, in remote villages, the seed bank concept needs to be encouraged and women peasants should be taught conservation, preservation, and storage of seeds. It would help in the exchange of seeds, improve nutrients in the soil, and have a positive impact on agricultural biodiversity. “When farmers sow hybrid seeds, the government provides a subsidy for water, electricity, tractor, fertilizer, weeder, fuel and pesticide. But there is no subsidy for sowing indigenous seeds”.

According to Mr. Prasant Mohanty, NIRMAN, “To encourage the farmers, the government needs to support them.” “Ecological farming practices need to be strengthened and if farmers follow proper procedure in selecting indigenous seeds and practice organic farming, it will increase productivity and have a positive impact on soil health, biodiversity, and human health”.

Ravi S. Behera
Ravi S. Behera
Mr. Ravi Shankar Behera, PGDAEM, National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management (MANAGE), Hyderabad is an independent freelance Consultant and Author based in Bhubaneswar. He is an Honorary Advisor to grassroots Voluntary Organizations on Food Security, Forest and Environment, Natural Resource Management, Climate Change, and Social Development issues. Ravi has lived and worked in various states of India and was associated with international donors and NGOs over the last twenty-three years including ActionAid, DanChurchAid, Embassy of Sweden/Sida, GiZ, UNICEF, Sightsavers, Aide et Action, Practical Action, Agragamee, and DAPTA. He has a keen interest in indigenous and marginalized communities, hunger, malnourishment, and food policy issues.

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