India needs emphasis on millet farming. Women lead the movement
Fact: about 30 million acres of land in India are under millet cultivation.
Fact: millets like jowar, bajra and ragi are eaten widely across the country.
Fact: millets take just over two months from sowing to cultivation, and can grow in the most difficult of conditions, providing a source of income to farmers.
Fact: with irrigation still a problem in many regions across the country, it makes more sense to cultivate millets than a water-intensive grain like rice.
And yet, millet farmers across India have been struggling for a long time, because the grain they cultivate is largely neglected.
With an aim to bring this struggle into the spotlight, about 100 women farmers from nine states gathered in New Delhi last week to form the National Millet Sisters Network.
Maneka Gandhi, the Union Minister for Women and Child Development, inaugurated the network, which consists of over 5,000 millet growing women farmers, in addition to millet consumers.
The network was launched alongside the fifth National Convention on Millets, conducted at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, with the theme 'enhancement of millet area to realise a nutritionally secure India'.
The network is an initiative of the Deccan Development Society (DDS), a grass-roots organisation based in Telangana, and the Millet Network of India (MINI), an alliance of more than 145 groups of farmers, scientists and media persons from across 13 states.
Impact of the Green Revolution
The women millet farmers' grouping, the first of its kind in the country, is aimed at advancing the cause of the neglected coarse grain, which was a traditional crop in the country.
For the poor, especially the tribals in the highland areas and farmers in the dry regions, millets were a staple diet, and acted as a crucial nutritional supplement.
However, ever since India's Green Revolution brought with it high yielding varieties of rice and wheat, the cultivation area of millets has come down by over 45%. Rice and wheat overtook millets as state policies supported the former grains with large scale subsidies, and by distributing them through the public distribution system (PDS).
At the end of the two-day convention, the farmers, along with civil society groups, scientists, policy makers, activists and environmentalists, have drawn up a declaration, affirming the future actions needed to help the cause of the crop. A representation from the Millet Sisters Network was submitted to Union Minister for Food and Public Distribution Ram Vilas Paswan.
Among the major demands is the implementation of the National Food Security Act, 2013, which has made provision for the inclusion of millets in the PDS. However, barring Karnataka, none of the other states have implemented it so far.
In addition, the convention reiterated the demands made in previous years to provide income support and nutrition bonuses to millet farmers for their contribution to stopping climate change and conserving water. Millet farming is rain-fed and does not require external irrigation like rice and wheat cultivation, which require huge water supply, thus putting a strain on the country's water resources.
The declaration also urged for the immediate inclusion of millets in the ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services), to combat the country's alarming malnutrition problem among children and women in particular. The nutrition rates among millets have been proved to be much higher than rice and wheat - the most popular cereals in India.