Millets are a group of highly variable small-seeded grasses, widely grown around the world as cereal crops or grains for both human food and fodder. They do not form a taxonomicgroup, but rather a functional or agronomic one. Millets are important crops in thesemi-arid tropics of Asia and Africa (especially in India, Nigeria and Niger), with 97% of millet production in developing. The crop is favored due to its productivity and short growing season under dry, high temperature conditions. These can develop from seeds to ready to harvest crops in about 65 days. This highly beneficial characteristic of the millets is of vital importance in thickly populated regions of the world. If stored properly, millets can keep well for two years or beyond.
Table 1 Nutrient Content of Various Millets with comparison to Rice and Wheat
Despite numerous qualities, utilization of millets as food is confined to the traditional consumers, particularly the tribal populations. This is mainly due to the non-availability of consumer friendly, ready-to-use/ready-to-eat millet based products. Recently, millets have gained attention and efforts are under way to obtain their convenient and value added processed products.
Although among the food crops, millets occupy relatively a lower position in Indian agriculture, they are quite important from the point of food security at regional/household level. Millets can not only grow in poor soil/climatic conditions, due to their short growing season, these can very well fit into multiple cropping systems under irrigated as well as dry land farming; and provide nutritious grain as well as fodder in a short span. Their prolonged and easy storability under ordinary conditions has accorded them the status of “famine reserves”; and this feature is of great relevance for India, as our agriculture suffers from the vagaries of monsoon. The millets commonly grown in India include: bajra (pearl millet), jowar (sorghum), ragi (finger millet), barri (proso/common millet), jhangora (barnyard millet), kangni (foxtail/ Italian millet), kodra (kodo millet) etc.
The fact that the small millets can grow from coastal regions of Andhra Pradesh to moderately high altitudes (hilly regions of Uttarakhand and North-Eastern states) is indicative of their wide capacity for adaptation. These crops can withstand variations in moisture, temperature and the type of soils ranging from heavy to sandy infertile lands. Therefore, to ensure food and nutrition security for our masses, it is important to increase the production of these crops and simultaneously revert the control of production, distribution and consumption back to the people. Since many households in dry land/hilly regions depend on millets to meet their food needs, we need to bring them into the food security basket.
In view of numerous benefits conferred by the millets, our farmers should aim at growing more and more of the millets; and we as consumers, should include millets in our daily food basket. Apart from increasing the production and consumption, in today’s era of modernization, industrialization and urbanization, we need to adequately process the millets to create a variety of value added nutritious products as per the taste, texture, flavour of the consumers.
Further, the public needs to be made aware of the benefits conferred by millets and their role in combating the ill effects of westernized sedentary lifestyle so that they can lead a healthy life.
Give a try; include millets in your forthcoming meals and enjoy the benefits conferred by these tiny nutritious grains!!!!