Closing ceremony of the International Year of Millets 2023 

GS Paper III

News Excerpt:

The closing ceremony of the International Year of Millets (IYM) 2023 was held on 29 March 2024 at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) headquarters, in Rome, Italy.

  • This marked the culmination of a year-long effort to promote millets globally. 
  • It provided a platform to review the achievements and lessons learned from IYM 2023 and to identify priorities for future investments aimed at strengthening millet value chains.
  • The event showcased a series of insightful discussions and presentations underscoring the importance of millets in achieving sustainable development goals and its emergence as a ‘Global Superfood.

About International Year of Millets (IYM 2023): 

  • In light of global recognition of the importance of millets in addressing food security and nutrition challenges, the United Nations General Assembly's (UNGA) declaration of 2023 as the International Year of Millets was adopted, following a proposal by India and supported by over 70 countries. 
  • The FAO was appointed as the lead agency for the IYM 2023, collaborating with various stakeholders to spearhead initiatives aimed at promoting millets' role in sustainable agriculture and nutrition. 
  • The primary objectives of IYM 2023 were to raise awareness about the nutritional benefits of millets, their adaptability to adverse climates, and their potential to create sustainable market opportunities for both producers and consumers. 
  • By highlighting these aspects, the initiative aimed to shift policy focus towards integrating millets into agricultural strategies and fostering a supportive environment for their production, distribution, and consumption.

Why Millets? 

  • Climate Resilience: 
    • Millets are among the oldest cultivated foods and are well-suited to grow in dry zones and rain-fed areas with marginal soil fertility and moisture conditions. 
    • Their short growing season of about 65 days makes them vital for densely populated regions. 
    • Millets thrive in extreme heat and limited rainfall, making them adaptive crops that can ensure food security and nutrition in regions affected by dramatic changes in weather.
  • Diversified Cropping Systems: 
    • Millets, along with legumes, are beneficial in rotational cropping systems, leading to higher overall productivity, greater resource efficiency, and soil conservation. 
  • Contribution to Healthy Diets: 
    • Millets are highly nutritious, non-glutinous, easily digestible, and rich in essential nutrients such as carbohydrates, dietary fiber, minerals (iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium), vitamins (β-Carotene, niacin, vitamin B6, folic acid), and antioxidants. 
    • Millet consumption aids in slower glucose release, reducing the risk of diabetes, and contributes to overcoming malnutrition among populations.
  • Untapped Potential for Innovation: 
    • Increasing production and developing value chains for millets can enhance the diversity of the agrifood system, bring income potential to rural communities, and stimulate innovation. 
    • Improving processing and storage practices can maximize the utilization of millets, while the development of innovative millet-based food products offers opportunities for entrepreneurs.
  • Far-reaching Impacts for Farmers and Indigenous Peoples: Millets serve as insurance against crop failure in severe weather conditions and offer higher monetary returns and cost-benefit ratios for farmers. Their production empowers smallholder farmers, especially women, and Indigenous communities, addressing poverty and food insecurity. Celebrating millets acknowledges and values farmers' knowledge and wisdom, transforming their role from recipients of technology to co-creators and co-innovators of knowledge alongside scientists.
  • Economic and Environmental Benefits: 
    • Millets contribute to economic efficiency in farming and livelihood security for millions of households, particularly small/marginal farmers and tribal communities. 
    • They help reduce atmospheric CO2 and mitigate climate change. 
    • Unlike paddy, millets do not contribute to methane emissions, and their cultivation does not require chemical fertilizers or attract pests.

India's millet production:

  • Global Leadership: India holds the title of being the largest producer of millets worldwide. In 2020, India's Pearl Millet (Bajra) and Sorghum (Jowar) varieties together accounted for approximately 19% of global millet production.
  • Regional Concentration: Six states, namely Rajasthan, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Gujarat hold significant shares in total millet production, accounting for over 83% of the country's total output. Rajasthan, in particular, stands out as a leading contributor, accounting for 28.61% of India's total millet production.
  • Variety of Millets: India produces multiple varieties of millets, including Pearl Millets, Sorghum, Finger Millet, Foxtail Millet, Kodo Millet, Barnyard Millet, Proso Millet, Little Millet, and Pseudo Millets like Buckwheat and Amaranths. Among these, Pearl Millet (Bajra), Sorghum (Jowar), and Finger Millet (Ragi) hold the largest share in India's total millet production.
  • Efforts are underway to increase millet production and consumption through various government schemes and initiatives, including the Initiative for Nutritional Security through Intensive Millets Promotion (INSIMP) and the Rainfed Area Development Programme (RADP). 

Recommendation of policy support by FAO:

  • Genetic Conservation: Prioritize the conservation of multiple millet varieties through gene banks and partnerships with farmers and Indigenous communities to preserve traditional materials and agricultural practices.
  • Seed Conservation System: Develop a robust seed-conservation system to ensure all farmers and Indigenous Peoples have access to diverse millet seed collections.
  • Nutritional Data: Compile comprehensive and up-to-date analytical food composition data for all millet species to better understand their nutritional content and potential benefits.
  • Incentives for Diversification: Introduce incentives for farmers to diversify production systems, such as subsidies for cover cropping, grants for neglected and underutilized crops, and crop insurance schemes.
  • Support for Small-Scale Farmers: Implement initiatives targeting small-scale farmers to enhance their cultivation, harvesting, and storage practices using gender-sensitive technologies.
  • Business Development Grants: Provide small business development grants for millet entrepreneurs, including improving processing services to add value to millet products.
  • Promotion of Millet Consumption: Promote millet consumption as part of healthy diets through public procurement programs and food education campaigns, engaging with the private sector to amplify impact.
  • Value Chain Diversification: Foster public-private partnerships to develop more diversified value chains that incorporate millets, enhancing market opportunities for producers and processors.
  • Investment in Research and Development: Encourage public and private investment in research and development initiatives focused on addressing the needs of the millet sector, including breeding, agronomy, and processing technologies.
  • Creation of Networks and Databases: Establish and maintain databases, community organizations, and networks involving various stakeholders interested in millet conservation, cultivation, processing, and education.
  • Enabling Environment: Create an enabling environment for millet-sector development, ensuring that farmers, Indigenous peoples, and small and medium businesses remain central to production and processing services.

Conclusion:

Millets offer a sustainable solution to various agricultural, nutritional, and environmental challenges and have the potential to play a significant role in achieving food security and promoting healthy lifestyles. Increased production, processing, and consumption of millets are essential for fostering resilient food systems and improving public health.