Dayakar Rao

In talks with Dr. B Dayakar Rao, Principal Scientist & CEO Nutrihub | Indian Institute of Millets Research

1. Why is Millet emerging as one of the most important food sources worldwide?

Millets are termed as nutricereals (sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet, foxtail millet, barnyard millet, kodo millet, proso millet, little millet, amaranthus and buckwheat) in view of its good nutritional specialities such as a complex carbohydrate (good carbs), gluten free, high dietary fibre and rich in minerals.

In the present generation, consuming fine cereals like wheat and rice in the polished forms alongside the value-added products like polished rice, bread, cake, biscuits, pizza, burger made with refined wheat flour (Maida) has increased day by day in our diets consequently leading to loss of nutrients resulting from intake of imbalanced diet. Hence there is a need to incorporate nutricereals in our plate to imbibe required nutrients for good health. Dietary diversification is the need of the hour to enhance the nutritional security with nutri-cereals to tackle malnutrition and lifestyle diseases. Millets being a healthy alternative to other finer cereals is gaining importance in the recent times. UNGA declaration of 2023 as International Year of Millets is the testimony for the increased importance of millets.

2. Where does India currently stand in Millet production and what can be the future?

India is the largest producer of millets in the world with 17.26 million tonnes of production from 13.83 million ha (DES, 2021-22). The following are the top five millet producing countries (the world statistics is obtained from FAOSTAT 2019 as the latest data is not published)

1. India – 15.53 million tonnes
2. Niger – 10.58 million tonnes
3. Sudan – 9.84 million tonnes
4. Nigeria – 8.17 million tonnes
5. Mali – 3.49 million tonnes

In India, millets are cultivated in an area of 12.45 million hectares, producing 15.53 million tonnes with a yield of 1247 kg/ha. Sorghum is the fourth most important food grain in India after rice, wheat, and maize in terms of area (3.84 Mn. ha) and production (4.31 Mn. MT). Bajra with 7.05 m ha area is contributing more than 50 per cent of the country's area under millets with nearly equal percentage of production. It is interesting to note that, India is the topmost producer of Barnyard (99.9%), Finger (53.3%), Kodo (100%), Little millet (100%) and pearl millet (44.5%), producing about 12.46 million metric tonnes from an area of 8.87 million ha

Food processing sector in India is being increasingly seen as a potential source for driving the rural economy and thereby increasing the farmers' income. The future of Agri & Food Processing Industry has been anticipated to potentially attract USD 33 bn investments and generate employment for 9 million people by 2024. Millets promise a secure and sustainable crop for the future, complementing economic security alongside food and nutritional security.

3. Apart from a sustainable crop, are there any other aspects of socio-economic issues that Millet production (increased) might be able to support or solve?

Millets, apart from being sustainable, they are still found to be a suitable alternative to the global food systems. Millet crops are on par with crops like rice and wheat, however, they are found superior to these crops in terms of amino acid contents, protein, gluten free foods and good carbohydrates. The crops can have several socio-economic issues associated

  • Millets and millet recipes are tasty and healthy thereby promoting better nutrition among the masses with a special emphasis on women and child nutrition including pre- and post-natal conditions.
  • They can be grown even on small and marginal lands with minimum inputs leading to better utilization of resources alongside reducing cost of cultivation.
  • Increased millet production will directly have an impact on the poor farmers who have small land holdings and thus enhancing their socio economic status.
  • Increased millet production will lead to increased consumption of millets which are a solution for many lifestyle diseases, thus making healthy population with less spending on pharma
  • Millets are naturally organic, hence they may be promoted as organic foods/crops thereby creating a niche market for millet entrepreneurs
  • Millet crops are gender neutral with an equal opportunity men and women to work as there is less drudgery of mechanization at farm
  • Millet business is the new age opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs to tap the potential of millets at national and international levels. The millet start-ups shall expand their businesses through seamless availability of raw materials and producing and selling the finished products for the markets.

4. Since 2023 has been announced as the Year of Millet by UN, what announcements or new programs we can expect in the coming year?

  • The government has formulated a plan/blueprint to initiate series of events in run for international year of millets 2023 including the global launch event at New Delhi to have dignitaries from major millet producing countries (as identified by Ministry of External Affairs)
  • Six task force were formed on various aspects of millets to obtain informed inputs from experts across the country to suggest and recommend various measures in preparation for the international year of millets. The committees have submitted the recommendations of respective Task Force groups and the recommendations are under consideration by the ministry.
  • Government has planned to organize mega events/conferences involving multi-stakeholders.
    o Chef conference to be organized at New Delhi during July – 2022
    o Millet Start-up conclave to be held in Bhubaneswar during October - 2022
  • Government has planned to hire Brand Ambassadors (Sports Persons, Nutritionists, Chefs, Film Stars etc) at National Level for the promotion of millets.
  • ICAR-IIMR has planned to organize the millet fairs and demonstrations through crop cafeterias by AICRP centres across the country

5. How important an exhibition solely dedicated to MILLETS is according to you? How is it going to influence the market and support the industry?

I congratulate the team ‘Millets India’ for taking initiative of organizing event catering to Millet producers, Technology providers, Storage Solutions and Millets based Product manufacturers.

Exhibitions dedicated solely to ‘Millets’ are the need of the hour and the ‘International Year of Millets – 2023 is fast approaching, there is a need for sensitizing the people about the importance of millets in current agro-economic and health ecosystem.

Industry has bigger role to play in bringing the forgotten grains to common man’s plate by developing innovative products, introducing new generation foods and investing in millet R&D for addressing challenges, processing and value addition including branding, labelling and packaging.

Events like ‘Millets India’ are instrumental in bringing all the stakeholders together and creating an interface of research, academia and industry including the start-ups in millets sector to push millets into national and global markets in the wake of International Year of Millets – 2023.

6. What kind of programs and activities IIMR is spearheading with regard to promotion of millets?

  • ICAR-IIMR has pioneered the efforts for demand creation through a successful value chain model developed to cover entire gamut of activities from production to consumption.
  • ICAR-IIMR is working State Millet Missions (Odisha, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Chhattisgarh etc) to revive millets on farms and plates with simultaneous focus on Production, Processing, Consumption, Marketing, and Inclusion of Millets in Government schemes alongside incentivizing millet cultivation and mainstreaming in public funded programs.
  • ICAR-IIMR has established a centre of excellence on sorghum, the first of its kind in the country which was later extended to all millets
  • ICAR-IIMR through its TBI is contributing to the success of the National Innovation system, by providing the right ambience and infrastructure for nurturing innovation, technical skills and entrepreneurial talents of thousands of millets stakeholders by training and mentoring the startups in millet sector under different programs like NEST and NGRAIN supported by RKVY-RAFTAAR.
  • ICAR-IIMR has developed 60+ technologies which are commercialized to the start-ups/industry partners through technology licensing to more than 80 start-ups.
  • ICAR-IIMR through its commercial façade Nutrihub, is handholding more than 250 start-ups towards upscaling their business by enabling them with production facilities through common facility centre at Nutrihub-IIMR.
  • ICAR has planned to train and capacity build SHGs and FPOs in millet processing and value addition through the KVKs across the country.
  • ICAR-IIMR is working with the state governments in organizing workshops and training programs in association with district collectorates.
  • ICAR-IIMR has planned to organize ‘National Nutri Cereal Convention -4.0’ during 23-24 September 2022 at HICC, Hyderabad. The event is aimed at converging all the stakeholders in millet ecosystem to participate drive the strategies for millet promotion across the globe in the wake of IYoM-2023. I would urge the readers to come and participate in big number and be the part of growing ‘Millet Movement” in the country.

Eat Millets and Stay Healthy.