Millets are some of the earliest cultivated grains, dating back to the prehistoric age. They find mention in some of the oldest Indian texts such as the Yajur Veda, in which, they are identified as ‘priyangava’ or foxtail millet, ‘aanava’ or barnyard millet, and ‘shyaamaka’ or black finger millet.
Despite a history older than the history of civilisation, the treatment meted out to these fabulous grains has been far less than fair. As recently as 60 years ago, millets comprised up to 40% of cultivated grain in India, more than rice and wheat. The Green Revolution in India in the 1960s changed this.
Often labelled as ‘a poor man’s food’, millets were largely forgotten about in the wake of the government doubling down on rice and wheat production with the help of mechanised agricultural equipment and high yielding variety of seeds.
Post globalisation, the eating habits of Indians underwent a sea of change, bringing processed food to the front of the line. Today, we eat ready to eat snacks and meals, pushing the millet further into obscurity.
Millet – a nutrient storehouse
There are seven types of millets currently being cultivated in India, namely: ‘bajra’/pearl millet, ‘ragi’/finger millet, ‘ramdana’/amaranth, ‘kuttu’/buckwheat millet, ‘sanwa’/barnyard millet, ‘kangni’/foxtail mille, and ‘kodon’/ kodo millet. Each of these varieties is laden with a wide range of nutrients, including calcium, carbohydrates, iron, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. Millets also contain vitamins such as folic acid, vitamin B6, β- Carotene, and niacin in abundance. Millets score way higher than both rice and wheat when it comes to any of these nutrients. Additionally, their higher fibre content and low glycemic index make them a far healthier alternative.
Slowly, millets are again getting their due place in India’s consumption landscape. As per UN FAO’s (Food and Agricultural Organization) latest report titled ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022: Repurposing Food and Agriculture Policies to Make Healthy Diets More Affordable’, about 71% of the Indian population cannot afford a nutritious diet. Despite being the second largest food producing country in the world, India is struggling to fight hunger and malnutrition.
In order to tackle this problem head on, the government has set the stage for this superfood’s comeback. A number of government policies have been put in place to aid the increase in cultivation of millets. For instance, enhancing millets’ share in food grain production under the National Food Security Mission and the Initiative for Nutritional Security through Intensive Millet Promotion, a comprehensive program to increase millet production.
Winds of change
With India’s celebration of 2018 as the National Year of Millets and UNGA’s nod to 2023 as the International Year of Millets, there’s a renewed focus on these nutritious grains. With increasing support from the government and greater and more efficient marketing of the many benefits of millet consumption, a number of corporations, start-ups and FPOs (Farmer Producer Organisation) have taken to not just cultivation but innovation in millet products.
The New Millet
Millets are growing in popularity across the globe. In their latest form, you can now eat them as chips, cookies, pancakes, brownies and a lot more. Many leading chefs have developed numerous recipes incorporating millets in order to cater to the health-conscious Indian.
Although, mindsets and lifestyles don’t change overnight and it may still be a while until millets become a permanent part of India’s mainstream consumption, the future seems to be bright for the millet group.
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