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The Indian Minister for Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, Radha Mohan Singh has sent a proposal to United Nations for declaring the year 2018 as ‘International Year of Millets’. The proposal, if agreed, will raise awareness about millets among consumers, policy makers, industry and R&D sector. Promotion of production and consumption of millets through conscious efforts at global level is likely to contribute substantially in the fight against targeted hunger and mitigate the effect of climate change in the long run. Popularising millets would benefit future generations of farmers as well as consumers, an Agriculture Ministry press release has said.
Millet is a common term to categorise small-seeded grasses that are often termed nutri-cereals or dryland-cereals, and includes sorghum, pearl millet, ragi, small millet, foxtail millet, proso millet, barnyard millet, kodo millet and other millets. An important staple cereal crop for millions of small holder dryland farmers across sub-saharan Africa and Asia, millets offer nutrition, resilience, income and livelihood for farmers even in difficult times. They have multiple untapped uses such as food, feed, fodder, biofuels and brewing. Therefore, millets are Smart Food as they are Good for You, Good for the Farmer and Good for the Planet.
Nutritionally superior to wheat and rice owing to their higher levels of protein with more balanced amino acid profile, crude fiber and minerals such as Iron, Zinc, and Phosphorous, millets can provide nutritional security and act as a shield against nutritional deficiency, especially among children and women. The anaemia (iron deficiency), B-complex vitamin deficiency, pellagra (niacin deficiency) can be effectively tackled with intake of less expensive but nutritionally rich foodgrains like millets. Millets can also help tackle health challenges such as obesity, diabetes and lifestyle problems as they are gluten free, have a low glycemic index and are high in dietary fibre and antioxidants.
Adapted to low or no purchased inputs and to harsh environment of the semi-arid tropics, they are the backbone for dryland agriculture. Photo-insensitive and resilient to climate change, millets are hardy, resilient crops that have a low carbon and water footprint, can withstand high temperatures and grow on poor soils with little or no external inputs. In times of climate change, they are often the last crop standing and, thus, are a good risk management strategy for resource-poor marginal farmers.