A recent survey of millet entrepreneurs across India has revealed challenges and areas of intervention for the government including promoting healthy foods, GST exemption, more options for online selling among others, during and post COVID-19 lockdown.
The highest priority help the millet entrepreneurs requested both during and post lockdown was for the government to promote and support healthy food, which includes millet. Nearly 80 percent requested this for post lockdown, some suggesting programmes like the government runs for eggs and milk. A few suggestions made for promoting millet and supporting millet enterprises were inclusion of millet in the mid-day meal schemes and allow small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to play a role in providing the food for mid-day meals and to poor sections of the community.
About 70 percent of the companies expressed the need for ensuring the economic stimulus includes entrepreneurs and exempting SMEs from Goods and Services Tax (GST). An additional suggestion to support healthy and sustainable foods was “exempt (from GST) all millet based products if millet content is more than 40 percent.”
Another priority request was to help provide more online selling options. Though nearly half the respondents said they had fewer channels to sell through during the lockdown, the survey clearly showed that the SMEs would vest faith in e-commerce after lockdown. Over 50 percent of the respondents sought more options for online sale while 66 percent said they will explore new online channels post lockdown.
The biggest challenge identified during lockdown was supply chain and logistics related issues, which are consistent across all industries. But surprisingly, even during lockdown about 80 percent of the entrepreneurs expected supply chain logistics continuing to be the biggest challenge. Close to this was the challenge of availability of funds and working capital.
Priority identified for the government to help, after promotion and support of healthy food, were both to simplify and assist the process of obtaining permission to operate and allowing more transportation, prioritised by over 60 percent of companies.
For the survey, responses from SMEs in 11 cities having business operations in 24 states and union territories were collected as part of the Smart Food initiative, founded by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). The results are being discussed with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), which is working to address challenges faced by the industry.
“Post COVID, millet as a healthy alternative option will grow in demand. Also, millet does not consume fresh water to the extent rice does, making its cultivation a sustainable food alternative,” said P Ravichandran, Chairman of the Agriculture and Food Processing Sub-Committee, CII Southern Region.
Union and state governments across India have been recognising the value of millets, especially since 2018, when a National Year of Millets was declared followed by establishment of a Millet Mission.
Dr Jacqueline Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT, emphasises, “Agribusiness is important to ensure agriculture is successful and profitable. Agribusiness and agriculture go together and support for both is important. With COVID-19, we are recognising this even more through challenges across the value chain.”
Green Revolution halted starvation but brought nutritional and environmental concerns with it. During the COVID-19 crisis, supporting sustainable practices, healthy food and its producers, and the entrepreneurs who are pioneers in bringing healthy, convenient and tasty food to the table is essential.