The Planet is facing complex challenges of climate change and frequent droughts while needs higher food and nutrition due to growing global population. To combat this challenge, the southern Indian state, Karnataka has been promoting millets as smart food which has higher nutrition than other foods while need minimal water for cultivation. NH Shivashankara Reddy, Minister for Agriculture, Government of Karnataka, in an interview with Mohd Mustaquim, talks on state’s millets programme, nutrition security, combating climate change and droughts to various programmes and policies with regards to agriculture in the state.
What are the main objectives of promoting millets?
Across nations, consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of what they eat. They are in search of a health source that can provide the ideal balance of nutrition and sustenance for future generations. However, there is a lack of thought, of time, of options - leading to diets that are nutritionally deficient or even harmful. Hence, a subject of great interest is the Next Gen Smart Food for all, and particularly for Gen next. And millets are the new heroes. The global quest for Next Gen Smart Food leads to millets as the source! One of the oldest foods known to humanity, millets are nutri cereals that have been our staple diet for generations. They are the main source of income, dietary, energy and protein for a billion people in semi-arid parts of the world. They are well suited for India’s rainfed agriculture and nutrition requirements of the people. As food choices expanded after Green Revolution, share of millets in our diet declined. As imbalanced diets have led us to various health challenges, thus, we are now being forced to rediscover our own millets. Millets and organics are a great asset in the era of expanding lifestyle and diet based health challenges. They play a major role towards fitness and good health while furthering the interests of the farmers and environment. It is time for each of us to grow smart, eat smart and live smart. Organics and millets, the Next Gen Smart Foods are the source of regeneration for Gen Next.
People in India preferably like of have rice and wheat as staple food. How has promoting millets been challenging in this scenario? And how to tackle this challenge?
It has been a challenging task to promote millets in our country. Consumer awareness creation was a challenge. Series of trade fairs and melas are being organised year after year. As a result of various promotional programmes, millet crops which had taken a backseat due to Green Revolution were given importance. To create publicity and awareness, organic and millet melas were conducted in various districts and in various localities of Bangaluru. As a result of providing incentives for the production of millets, the area under millet crops has grown over the years thereby increasing the production. Recipes made from rice and wheat also be prepared by using millets. For the people with difficulty in getting adjusted to the taste of millets, millet dishes could be started from 2-3 times a week, then one meal a day. The frequency can be increased upon acceptability improves. The 15 regional organic federations have been set up throughout the state to improve marketing and availability of organics and millets.
Karnataka is promoting millets as smart food. How are they smarter than other foods?
Millets have multiple benefits as compared to other foods. As health source, they have low glycemic index, gluten free; high in nutrients, particularly minerals, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium; protein content varies from 6 to 11 percent; rich in dietary fibre, B-complex vitamins, essential amino and fatty acids and vitamin E. As power source for farmers, millets grow in hardy soils; survive in dry and low rainfall zones; need minimal water, nutrients and chemical sprays; low cost and risk; drought tolerant; high value fodder and so on. For the planet, they have low environmental footprint, minimal water and chemicals, resilient to climate change and less stress on the environment.
There have been frequent droughts over the years in India. There is a threat of climate change too. Can cultivation of millets be helpful for food and nutrition security?
The global quest for nutritious food, security of farmers, sustainable agriculture and conservation of environment is fuelling a revolution in millets. Millets have provided food and nutritional security to the populations in the disadvantaged geographical regions. Their cultivation is the mainstay of rainfed farming which provide livelihood to nearly 50 percent of the total rural workforce and sustain 60 percent of cattle population in India. Agronomic advantages are that they are highly adapted to low rainfall conditions, able to withstand fairly long dry spells, recover fast after delayed rain, make them good contingent crops. Millets are highly resilient in adapting to different ecological conditions; ideal crops for climate change and contingency plantings. Besides being farmer-friendly, I also told you about its nutritional benefits. Millets termed as the last standing crop in times of drought and as wonder grain that has capability to enhance nutritional security in the country.
The media penetration has reached to the interior and remote villages in the country, how can it help in making the masses aware about the benefits of millets? Is Karnataka planning anything on this direction?
By giving wide publicity on health and nutritional benefits of millets through mass media like newspapers, TV, radio, journals, it has been made possible to reach to the remote villages of the state. Karnataka government is exploring all possible routes to give publicity and create awareness about the benefits of millets.
What are the major policy thrust areas of Karnataka government towards farming sector?
Karnataka is predominantly an agrarian state wherein nearly 69 percent of the cultivated area is under rainfed farming. The scope for increasing the irrigation potential in the state is limited in view of its geographical position as an upper riparian state. The productivity levels of different crops in rainfed areas are very low. In this direction, “Krishi Bhagya” has helped farmers to harvest surplus rainwater and use it as lifesaving irrigation to sustain production and enhance yield.
Thrust has been given on “Soil Health Mission” to protect and improve the soil health. Emphasis on timely availability of quality inputs such as seeds, organic manures, fertilisers, micronutrients and plant protection chemicals to the farmers at subsidised rates have been given. To enable the farmers to carryout agricultural activities in right time and also to reduce the dependence on agricultural labour, farm machineries and agro processing units are distributed at subsidised rates. To provide farm machineries to small and marginal farmers at a reasonable rent custom hiring centers have been established.
What are the main problems do you see in farm distress resulting into farmer suicides and what Karnataka is doing to check this issue?
Farmers are facing problems due to drought and floods, loan, crop loss, marketing problems among many other issues. The Government of Karnataka in the year 2018-19 has announced the crop loan wavier scheme. Incentive of Rs 25,000 will be given to farmers who are not defaulters to the nationalised banks. This will ensure in reducing the number of farmers’ suicide in the state. Also, awareness programmes are conducted to build the self confidence among the farmers and technical trainings are given to them on regular basis to improve the farm productivity. In Karnataka, farmer suicide incidences are being reported. For 290 deceased families, compensation amount of Rs 5 lakh each to the families of diseased has been paid.
Many technological disruptions are coming into agricultural sector. What are those specific technological disruptions, do you envisage, are going to change the agricultural practices in the next 10 years?
Remote sensing technology can be utilised mainly for crop status and crop loss assessments. ICT and ITeS and Internet of things are believed and proven to be the tools for timely information which enable both farmers and decision makers to take timely decisions. These help in development of database and documentation under the schemes implemented and in turn enable the decision makers.
The state agriculture department has taken up the process of development of ICT application modules for implementation of various schemes implemented by the department in a phased manner under K-KISAN project. Some of the schemes already covered under this are Farm Mechanization, Micro-irrigation, Krishi Bhagya, Agricultural Input Supply System and Licensing of input dealers among others. These developments are expected to enable better scheme implementation.