Millets need to be promoted more proactively by the government, to boost its demand and consumption to turn it into a profitable crop for the farmers.

A positive fallout of the Covid-19 could be described as a change in our eating habits and foods, which we consume. As everyone is trying to boost their immunity and stay active during in-home stretches, every one is looking forward to get a balanced and nutritious diet, which could help them fight off the Covid-19 virus. One such cereal, which has assumed greater attention in these anxieties filled days, is millet.

Millets have been around for centuries as a food group but somewhere down the line, particularly in India, we seem to have replaced them with polished rice and maida-mixed wheat. Consuming millets was considered to be meant for the poor.

Ancient grains like jowar, ragi, foxtail, bajra and other minor millets are promising cereals which are nutritionally superior to major cereals and serve as a good source of protein, high dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and micronutrients. Millets seem to be in demand again as it is known to be an immunity booster.

Do you know what was the staple grain of India a few decades back? You would be surprised to know it was the humble millets; also currently one-third of the world’s population consumes millets regularly.

But the small, humble grains are finally getting their due as super food and powerhouse of immunity. Millets are now on the verge of becoming superstars of nutrition. Millets are a rich source of a wide variety of micronutrients such as calcium, thiamine and magnesium. It is the presence of these micronutrients that support the immune system. Millets are a good source of protein, high dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and micronutrients.

What are millets and their advantages?

As per agricultural scientists, Millets are a group of small-grained cereal food crops, which are highly tolerant to drought and other extreme weather conditions and are grown with low chemical inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides. Most of the millet crops are native to India and are popularly known as nutri-cereals as they provide most of the nutrients required for normal functioning of human body. Millets are classified into Major Millets and Minor Millets based on their grain size.

Millets are gluten free and non-allergenic. Millet consumption decreases triglycerides and C-reactive protein, thereby preventing cardiovascular diseases. All millets are rich in dietary fibre. Dietary fibre has water absorbing and bulking property. It increases transit time of food in the gut, which helps in reducing risk of inflammatory bowel disease, and acts as detoxifying agent in the body.

Nutritionists promote millets, as they are gluten-free, highly nutritious and rich in dietary fibre. They are rich in micronutrients, including calcium, iron, phosphorus, etc. They are low in Glycemic Index (GI) and as such don’t cause huge spike in blood sugar. Thus, millets should ideally be an integral part of our daily diet.

Many doctors endorse the positive affects of consuming millets, as they are anti-acidic and gluten free; helps to prevent type 2 diabetes; are effective in reducing blood pressure; reduces risk of gastrointestinal conditions like gastric ulcers or colon cancer; eliminate problems like constipation, excess gas, bloating and cramping. Millets also act as a probiotic feeding micro flora in our inner ecosystem. Millets hydrate our colon to keep us from being constipated. Millets contain major and minor nutrients in good amount.

Millets are high in nutrition and dietary fibre. They serve as good source of protein, micronutrients and phytochemicals. The millets contain 7-12 per cent protein, 2-5 per cent fat, 65-75 per cent carbohydrates and 15-20 per cent dietary fibre. The essential amino acid profile of the millet protein is better than various cereals such as maize. Millets contain fewer cross-linked prolamins, which may be an additional factor contributing to higher digestibility of the millet proteins.

Millet promotion by the government

The Government of India marked 2018 as the National Year of Millets to boost production of the nutrient-rich millets and the agro-industries involved in its production. As per Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India needs to work on the Millets revolution in order to ensure a nutritious diet and good health. Under his stewardship India sponsored a UN resolution to get 2023 declared as International Year of the Millets, aimed at enhancing production and consumption of millets.

The Indian policymakers have refocused their attention towards millet farming systems and enacted policies to create an enabling environment for the farmers. With respect to millets production, some of the existing schemes by the Government of India include: Integrated Cereals Development Programmes in Coarse Cereals (ICDP-CC), Macro Management of Agriculture (MMA), Initiative for Nutritional Security through Intensive Millet Promotion (INSIMP), a part of Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) which is the only comprehensive initiative to support millet production. But cultivation of millets should be promoted in drylands states and also mountainous regions to generate additional income for the farmers.

However, a lot still needs to be done to give millets their due share in the food chain of the population. The policy makers should try to focus on a greater integration of a national mission and sub-missions on nutri-cereals with the flagship Poshan Abhiyaan. The focus on revival of millets should be complimented by the revival of consumption by producers. A collective, or cluster marketing approach, may help growers. Various states have been distributing millets through the public distribution system (PDS), the government needs to increase its distribution in other states too. Efforts should also be made to include the nutrient-rich smaller millets in the mid-day meal schemes in government and government-aided schools in the states, to promote their acceptability.

Now a day everyone is concerned about increasing their immunity and pursuing a healthy and fit diet for a healthy body. Millets could help in achieving this at a lesser cost. The government targeting the young and health conscious to different forms of millets, for a healthy and immunity boosting diet should launch a publicity campaign promoting millets. As demand would lead the supply, millets can assume once again a prime place in our regular diet, and also bring a larger area in the country under cultivation.

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He can be contacted at [email protected] The views expressed are personal)

–IANS

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