When India proposed to the United Nations to declare 2023 as the international year of millets, it was met with overwhelming support of 72 other countries. Today, India is leading the world towards a revolution, which will boost global nutritional outcomes, promote sustainable eating habits, and, most importantly, address concerns around food security. The Indian superfood millets are now claiming rightful global recognition for their multifaceted benefits.
Millets are ecologically sustainable, require very little water and fertilisers, have a short cropping duration, improve soil health and can easily be grown in arid soil and hilly terrain. These features make millets extremely suitable for India’s diverse agro-climatic conditions. Millets require 25-30 per cent less rainfall than paddy and sugarcane, and can be considered extremely resilient agricultural ammunition to combat climate change. At the same time, millets are a nutritional powerhouse, making their addition to daily dietary patterns beneficial. As compared with commonly consumed cereals like wheat and rice, finger millet (ragi) has 10 times more calcium than wheat, and pearl millet (bajra) has six times more iron than rice and almost twice as much as wheat.
Millets are also rich in essential macro- and micro-nutrients, such as protein, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3) and folic acid. These nutrients are required in optimum quantity for the growth and development of young children and for the maintenance of optimal health status among adults. The multi-pronged health benefits of millets include a boost to immunity, protection against diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and even cancer. Iron deficiency and anaemia among children and women of reproductive age is a major public health concern in our country.
An excellent source of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and amino acids, millets are essential weapons in the fight against malnutrition. The introduction of millets as a part of mid-day meals and Integrated Child Development Services is a significant step forward to tackle acute malnutrition rates, and will lead to a considerable improvement in nutritional outcomes.
It is estimated that the replacement of rice with indigenous alternate cereals like millets can reduce total irrigation water demand by 33 per cent and improve the production of protein, iron and zinc.
With an increasing global preference in favour of a nutrition rich diet, millets are poised to occupy higher relevance and market shares across the world. The once declining yield of millets is now a reversing trend with many agri-tech firms and even startups procuring the coarse grain and promoting its benefits. The fitness savvy outlook of customers today creates a huge prospect for the cultivation, production and marketing of millets.
Worldwide, there is growing interest in the health and nutritional aspects of millets as they fit into some of the biggest global health food trends—low glycemic index, high fibre and likewise. A similar consumption preference is emerging in urban areas of India as well. India is the largest producer of millets globally with the market value projected to reach $15 billion by 2025. India is also among the top five exporters of millets in the world, exporting millets worth $64.28 million in 2021-22, against $59.75 million in 2020-21. It is the right time to tap global markets, ensure quality storage and transportation, and, ultimately, boost the global production and consumption of millets.
The international year of millets will be a novel opportunity for India to take the wholesome benefits of this superfood to the kitchens of the world. With 2023 also being the year of India’s G20 presidency, all eyes will be on us. We are leveraging this occasion to steer global attention towards the myriad advantages of this magical nutri-cereal in every single event.
India is at the forefront of a mission to bring back environmentally sustainable farming habits, food security, welfare of farmers, and, most importantly, restore nutritional balance to diets across India and the world.
Author is G20 Sherpa and former CEO, NITI Aayog. Views expressed are personal.