The millets industry in India has emerged as a beacon of hope and progress, symbolizing the nation's commitment to health, sustainability, and prosperity. As one of the oldest cultivated grains known to humankind, millets have long been an integral part of Indian culture, offering its people a rich source of nourishment. In recent years, with a global shift towards embracing healthier and sustainable food choices, millets have garnered widespread attention for their impressive nutritional profile and ecological benefits. This surge in demand has reinvigorated India's millet industry, propelling it to the forefront of the global market. By fostering a thriving millet production and consumption ecosystem, India has safeguarded its ancient culinary heritage and fostered socio-economic growth, without compromising on the environment's wellbeing.
Indian millet's inherent nutritional prowess is nothing short of awe-inspiring. These small yet powerful grains are rich in essential nutrients like fibre, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Notably, they are gluten-free, making them an ideal choice for individuals with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease. Millets play a significant role in combating malnutrition, a persistent challenge in certain regions of India. Their inclusion in daily diets has been shown to improve overall health outcomes, especially among vulnerable populations like children and pregnant women. Furthermore, millets have garnered immense popularity among health-conscious consumers worldwide, potentially revolutionising dietary habits on a global scale.
There is proof that millets were grown on the Korean peninsula around 3500 B.C. Yajurveda Texts in India refer to millets. Till about fifty years ago, millet was widely grown. But India has neglected its traditional knowledge because of the Western growth model. Millets are criticised as being overly basic and coarse. It was exclusively considered to be the diet of farmers or ancestors. Additionally, millet output suffered because of the Green Revolution. Before the Green Revolution, millets accounted for 40% of all grain production. Millet production in India totals 170 lakh tonnes or 20% of global production. While millets provide an average yield of 1,239 kg per hectare in India, the global average is 1,229 kg per hectare.
Millets are a group of small-seeded grains cultivated for thousands of years in many parts of the world. They are a great source of nutrition, high in fibre and rich in vitamins, minerals, and proteins. They have gluten-free properties, which makes them ideal for those with celiac disease or other gluten sensitivities. Millets can be cooked whole as porridge or ground into flour to make bread, cakes, and pasta.
Millets, grown in more than 130 countries, have been considered an integral part of the diet of over half a billion people across Asia and Africa for centuries. In India, Millets were among the first crops to be domesticated. In addition to many health benefits, millets are also good for the environment with low water & input requirement. Recognising the enormous potential of Millets to generate livelihoods, increase farmers’ income and ensure food & nutritional security worldwide, the Government of India (GoI) has prioritised Millets. In April 2018, Millets were rebranded as “Nutri Cereals”, followed by the year 2018 being declared as the National Year of Millets, aiming at more extensive promotion and demand generation.
The rise of the millet industry has also had a profound impact on India's agricultural landscape. The cultivation of millets requires minimal water and can thrive in dry conditions, making them drought-resistant and well-suited for rain-fed farming. By promoting millet cultivation, India has empowered farmers in water-scarce regions, providing them with an alternative crop that guarantees a sustainable income. Additionally, millets encourage crop rotation and diversification, promoting soil health and reducing the risks of pests and diseases. This eco-friendly farming approach aligns with India's commitment to sustainable agriculture and contributes to the conservation of precious natural resources.
The millet industry's success in India drives the government's unwavering support and strategic policies. Recognizing the potential of millets to enhance public health and rural livelihoods, the government has taken proactive steps to promote their cultivation, processing, and consumption to foster growth. Various initiatives and schemes have been introduced to incentivize farmers, create market linkages, and establish millet-based enterprises. Through partnerships with research institutions and agricultural experts, India has invested in improving millet varieties' yield and nutritional content, ensuring that these grains retain their inherent health benefits.
The Indian millets industry has also witnessed a significant boost in terms of research and development. Public and private sectors have collaborated to explore new ways of incorporating millets into diverse food products, capitalizing on their versatility and taste. As a result, millets have transcended their traditional usage in porridges and flatbreads, finding their way into various innovative products such as millet-based snacks, breakfast cereals, and ready-to-cook meals. This evolution has widened the market appeal of millets and opened doors for entrepreneurship and job creation in the food processing sector.
The Indian government proposed the designation of 2023 as the International Year of Millets and was approved by participants in the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Governing Bodies at the 41st FAO Conference, the 160th FAO Council Session, and the 26th Committee on Agriculture (COAG) Session. In March 2021, the UN General Assembly's 75th session approved it. About 70 nations have vowed to work with different stakeholders to promote the widespread use of millet and increase their production and productivity around the world. India is leading efforts to revive millets and has started a variety of policy initiatives to boost their production. India is also the country that proposed the International Year of MILLETS (IYoM)-2023.
The International Year of Millets provides a unique opportunity for India to help create greater awareness of millet production, contribute to food and nutritional security, and ensure sustainable livelihoods and incomes of farmers - particularly in regions that are drought-prone or threatened by climate change.
Indian efforts to increase millet output have been successful. A stunning 27% increase in millet production was seen in 2021–2022 compared to the previous year, demonstrating the nation's dedication to increasing and extending millet farming. India has experienced a remarkable growth trajectory in terms of exports. Exports of millet goods totalled US$ 34.32 million between 2021 and 2022, a significant rise from the US$ 26.97 million reported the year before.