Significance of Coarse Cereals

SEP 12

Mains   > Agriculture   >   Crops   >   Crop diversity

IN NEWS:

  • Recently department of food and public distribution (DFPD) has decided to acquire 1.37 million tonnes of coarse cereals from the Kharif market. The total procurement of coarse grains till now has been 0.63 million tonnes, which means the target has been more than doubled.
  • The secretary of the department of food and public distribution (DFPD) opined that climate change has affected the production of wheat and paddy in the country, and there is a need to shift focus to coarse cereals.

COARSE CEREALS:

  • Coarse cereals are a broad sub-group of several short duration warm weather (Kharif) crops such as Jowar (Sorghum), Bajra (Pearl Millet), Maize, Ragi (Finger Millet) etc.
  • They are popularly known as Nutri-cereals as they provide most of the nutrients required for normal functioning of human body.
  • In our country, the coarse cereals are mainly grown in poor agroclimatic regions, particularly rainfed areas of the country.

SIGNIFICANCE OF COARSE CEREALS:

  • Sustainable agriculture
    • Most coarse cereals are xerophilic:
      • Which means they can reproduce with limited water input
      • Millets generally consumes 25-30% less water than sugarcane and riceaccording to Food and Agriculture Organization.
      • For ex: Pearl millet/ bajra can grow on poor sandy soils and is well suited for dry climates due to its ability to use moisture efficiently.
    • Climate resilient crop:
      • Coarse cereals are generally thermophilic i.e thriving at relatively higher temperatures.
      • Small millets such as finger millet and Kodo millet can be grown in adverse climatic and soil conditions.
      • It has ability to grow on poor soils, hilly terrains and with little rain.
    • Carbon sequestration:
      • Millets are C4 carbon sequestrating crops contributing to the reduction of CO2 in the atmosphere.
  • Economic security:
    • Low investment required:
      • Coarse cereals can be grown on dry, low-fertile, mountainous and rain-fed areas.
      • It requires little irrigation and no fertilizers at all.
      • A survey conducted by Deccan Development Society (DDS) indicates that 97 per cent of the households did not use fertilisers for millets.
    • Short cropping duration
      • Millets has cropping duration of 70-100 days, as against 120-150 days for paddy/wheat >> which allows millets to be a part of multiple cropping systems in both rain-fed and irrigated areas
    • Coarse cereals are photo-insensitive
      • Which means it do not require a specific photoperiod for flowering
    • More shelf life than rice/wheat:
      • Coarse cereals can be stored for a considerable amount of time under appropriate storage conditions, therefore making them ‘famine reserves’.
    • Export potential:
      • Millets with its high nutrients has a good market in developed regions of the world.
    • Promotion of millets will ensure food and livelihood security to small and marginal farmers and inhabitants of rainfed areas, especially in remote tribal areas
  • Nutritional security:
    • Coarse cereals have higher levels of protein with more balanced amino acid profile. Also they are high in dietary fibre. They are also rich in micro nutrients like iron, zinc etc.
    • It high Iron content can fight high prevalence of anaemia in India women of reproductive age and infants.
    • Ragi is known to have the highest calcium content among all the food grains.
  • Health benefits:
    • Gluten free >> makes them easily digestible and non-allergenic foods
    • They have a low glycemic index (a relative ranking of carbohydrate in foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels) >> suitable for diabetic patients.
    • They contains phytate >> which is associated with reducing risk of cancer.
    • They also contain phyto-nutrients, including phytic acid, which is believed to lower cholesterol.
  • International Relation
    • India is the world leader in the production of millets with share of around 41% of total world production in 2020. Currently, India is the fifth largest exporter of millets in the world.
    • India exported about 15.4% of the world’s Bajra to roughly 60 countries from 2013 to 2018.
    • More than 40% of global millet consumption is held by African countries mainly Niger, Mali, Nigeria, Burkina, and Sudan, where food and nutritional security are the major challenges.
    • India can become an effective exporter to develop better relation with these countries.

CHALLENGES:

  • Historical policy neglect in the case of coarse cereals:
    • Post-green revolution period witnessed skewed focus on rice and wheat neglecting other crops such as millets and pulses.
    • Government support such as MSP, public procurement etc are largely restricted to rice and wheat. Therefore India has witnessed a 60 per cent decline in the area under millets since 1960s. 
  • Low acreage of millets and production shortage:
    • India currently has only 14 million hectares of land under millets cultivation; as compared to 29 million and 44 million of wheat and rice respectively.
    • As per FAO, India falls short of 40% of millet production by 2023.
  • Lack of infrastructure:
    • Lack of reach of improved methods of production and technologies.
    • Lack of appropriate post-harvest processing technologies for small millets.
  • Lack of coverage in PDS:
    • National Food Security Act of 2013 – which entitles three-fourths of all households to 5 kg of wheat or rice per person per month at Rs 2 and Rs 3 per kg, respectively – has reduced the demand for millets.
  • Increased penetration of imported coarse cereals:
    • There is an increased penetration of imported millets, which is not native to the Indian geography or cuisine.
    • Quinoa is a prominent example that has seen increasing domination in urban diets.
  • Competition from other market friendly remunerative crops
  • Decreased consumer demand due to difficult in usage:
    • Kneading dough and rolling rotis is much easier with wheat than with millet flour.

INITIATIVES:

  • Re-branding:
    • The Union Agriculture Ministry, in April 2018, declared coarse cereals as ‘Nutri-Cereals’, considering their ‘high nutritive value’ and also ‘anti-diabetic properties’.
  • Initiative for Nutritional Security through Intensive Millet Promotion (INSIMP):
    • The scheme aims to catalyse increased production of millets in the country to enhance India's nutritional security.
    • It involves providing input kits, establishment of units for processing and value-addition etc.
    • It is a part of the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana
  • National year of millets:
    • 2018 was observed as ‘National Year of Millets”.
  • U.N. declaration of 2023 as International Year of Millets.
    • The resolution is intended to increase public awareness on the health benefits of millets and their suitability for cultivation under tough conditions marked by climate change.
  • Hike in MSP:
    • Government has substantially hiked the minimum support price (MSP) of millets so that more and more farmers may opt for cultivation of these less water consuming crops.
  • Encouraging consumption:
    • Millets are being purchased at the support price and are also being included in the mid-day meal scheme and public distribution system, for encouraging its consumption.

WAY FORWARD:

  • Demand push:
    • Increasing awareness on nutritional and health benefits of coarse cereals:
      • General perception is that the millets are increasingly seen as “poor person’s food”.
      • Therefore, it is necessary to re-brand coarse cereals/millets as nutri-cereals and promote their production and consumption.
    • Certification programme for jowar,ragi and bajra:
      • To improve marketability in international market.
    • Inclusion of millets in Public Distribution System and Mid-Day Meal scheme
  • Supply side:
    • Value addition:
      • Promotion of processed millet products such as ragi cookies, bajra biscuits, jowar namkeen
    • Input support:
      • Supply of certified seeds through KVKs
      • Establishment of Custom hiring centres (CHCs) for farm machineries
      • Support for soil health improvements
      • Concessional credit to farmers moving towards millets from paddy/wheat
    • R and D:
      • Government supported research on innovative millet cultivation methods
    • Strengthening supply chain:
      • Empower women farmers and self-help groups (SHG), by equipping them with advanced packaging techniques, agro-marketing, financial literacy and other entrepreneurial skills.
    • Introducing millet cultivation in areas where farmers’ distress is visible:
      • In regions of distress millet production will be more attractive to farmers.
      • For instance, the cotton dependency of Vidarbha's farmers and economy is well-known, especially in the arid zones. The region in Maharashtra is also known as the farmer suicide capital.
      • Perhaps one of the most important solutions is to encourage cotton farmers to diversify into millet production, as, traditionally, the region of Vidarbha was rich in millet cultivation, and more so because of its predominant rain-fed agricultural landscape.

PRACTICE QUESTION:

Q. “Promoting coarse cereals are essential for nutritional security and sustainable agriculture”. Discuss.