The world today is facing a big challenge like the food crisis due to Covid, the climate crisis, the Ukraine war, etc. In such a situation, there is a need to promote the cultivation and consumption of millet to ensure food security. Millet is such a super food, which is a traditional nutritious and low-cost alternative to deal with the food crisis. Many crops are included under coarse cereals, such as millet, jowar, ragi, Kodo, kutki, , amaranth, etc. The most important crops in this are sorghum and millet. According to the report of the World Food Organization, about 120 million people worldwide were in the grip of starvation due to Corona, but due to the global food crisis, this number has increased to more than 800 million. There are about 8 crore diabetic patients in India, 1.7 crore people die yearly due to heart disease, and more than 33 lakh children are malnourished. More than half of women and children and one in five men are anemic. In such a situation, coarse grains must be made a part of every plate. The government is also serious about providing nutritious food. In such a situation, millet is being made a part of the public distribution system along with the mid-day meal. The best health benefits of millet include its ability to keep the heart healthy, prevent diabetes, and strengthen the digestive system.
Vaagdhara organization is working with the people in the tribal area to preserve coarse grains. Germplasm of 4-4 varieties of paddy and small grains of Banswara are preserved as national property in the gene bank of ‘National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, New Delhi (NBPGR) ) by 2 varieties of paddy from Anandpuri in Banswara – Red Colombo and Patharia and 2 varieties of paddy from Gangad Talai area – Jeera and Hutar; And 4 local varieties of small grains of Kushalgarh region – Ragi, Kodo, Cheena and Kang germplasm Taking an important step for the conservation of protected local varieties and to protect the interests of the tribal community of southern Rajasthan, “National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources” (National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources,) New Delhi (NBPGR) 4 varieties of paddy from Banswara – Red Colombo and Patharia from Anandpuri region and Hutar and Jeera from Gangad Talai region, and 4 local varieties of small grains from Kushalgarh region – Ragi, Kodo, China, and Kang have been preserved as national assets in the gene bank. The move will help in conserving these varieties which form an important part of the tribal food plate.
“National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources” has preserved the germplasm of 4,62,982 varieties, which includes 116335 varieties of rice, as of 31/10/2022.
Working with the tribal community on traditional agricultural practices in southern part of Rajasthan for last 30 years, Vaagdhara has played a vital role in preserving this germplasm by the “National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, New Delhi”. The National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, works for the development, discovery, survey, and collection of plant genetic resources. Its state-of-the-art National Gene Bank is the world’s second-largest biorepository preserving genetic material. Germplasm is the living tissue from which new plants can be grown.
To preserve the traditional farming of tribal areas, getting it preserved as a national asset in the national-level gene bank is a worthwhile initiative and exemplary work of Vaagdhara.
In this context, Secretary of Vaagdhara, Jayesh Joshi told that tribal farmers co-exist with their water, forest, land, animals, and seeds. Preservation of local seeds is a very important task in efforts to preserve and sustainably cultivate the wealth linked to their traditional methods. Today, due to new research and methods in the agriculture sector, the cost of farming has increased a lot, due to which the farmer in tribal areas is forced to migrate for the maintenance of himself and his family and is surrounded by many problems. The organization is trying to make the concept of ‘true farming’ a reality by helping them in their livelihood by consulting agricultural scientists on ways to produce more with less expenditure in their traditional methods. Agricultural scientist and former professor Dr. Pramod Rokadia, associated with the organization, told that for the conservation of crop species, varieties can be saved forever by conserving local varieties in the National Gene Bank.
Cultivation of indigenous varieties of traditional crops by tribal communities has been seen in a particular area since ancient times till present, but due to the changing environment and agricultural policies, these crops are being cultivated in very limited quantities. Malnutrition is more prevalent in the tribal area, so it is essential to preserve the local varieties of this nutritious paddy and small grains. Keeping this in mind, only a few farmers engaged in saving their culture and heritage are cultivating these crops while facing the opposite ecosystem. These crops, which grow easily in less water and are full of nutrition, have the power to protect themselves even in adverse weather.
Although saving and promoting such crops is done by the Agricultural University at the government level, but this work done by a social organization is a unique effort of gene promotion under the protection of national property.
The coming year 2023 is also being celebrated as the International Year of Millets. In this sequence, samples of 8 other varieties of maize and paddy crops have been sent to the National Gene Bank, which are in its processing system. Conservation work is being done on a large scale by creating a data bank of varieties and seeds of traditional crops by the organization itself.
The local varieties of paddy collected by the Vaagdhara Institute in the National Gene Bank come under the category of short and coarse rice. These varieties, suitable for direct sowing areas, can be obtained by growing nursery and transplanting them to other fields. These varieties get ready by ripening in 90 to 120 days in rainfed areas. In these varieties preserved for medium term (10 to 15 years) time in the gene bank, Red Colombo seeds have a red color husk, cover or husk, which is also called Colombo in the local language. While Patharia variety seeds are black, Hutar variety seeds are earthy brown in color and Jeera variety seeds are round in shape with golden color.
Four crops that have been protected in the category of coarse grains, namely Ragi, Kodo, China and Kangni seeds, which are being cultivated in tribal areas, in limited area, stony and low resources and cost, in rain-fed areas, at the foothills of mountains etc. Is. In these crops full of nutrients and edible fibers, the variety of ragi, which is also known as Bavata or Mal in the local language, has dark red seeds, while the seeds of Kodo or Kodra are brown, the seeds of China are of golden color and the seeds of Kangni The seeds are brown. The amount of calcium and iron content in ragi crops is more than that of other millets – jowar, bajra and cereal crops – wheat and rice. Apart from this, the amount of zinc content in Kangni and Ragi is high, these crops are also rich in protein elements. Being a good source, it is a good medium of nutrition.
According to CGIAR estimates, global production of wheat, rice and maize could decline by 15 to 20 percent in the coming decade due to climate change. In such a situation, coarse grains that can adapt with the increasing temperature of the earth are becoming indispensable for the Indian economy. It is also beneficial for small farmers as it is produced with less water and less time.
The ancient food culture of India was also associated with these millets. But after the Green Revolution, with the change in the food culture, the coarse grains went out of the plate. Jowar and bajra were replaced by wheat and rice from the average Indian’s plate after the 1960s, IndiaSpend reported in August 2016. Due to the decrease in the demand of coarse grains and not getting proper price, the farmers were disillusioned towards growing it. The production of coarse cereals was 12.17 million tonnes in the year 1970, which has increased to 40.75 million tonnes in 2007 and 47.48 million tonnes in 2019. This increase in production is only nominal. According to the report published by the International Crops Research Institute, between 1962 and 2019, India’s per capita consumption of millet has declined from 32.9 kg to just 2.8 kg per year.
Along with the United Nations, the Government of India has also declared the year 2023 as the Year of Millets to bring awareness among people about millets and to increase their demand. On the other hand, after Corona, from the point of view of health, the trend towards coarse grains has increased among the people. Coarse grains rich in micronutrients like iron, fiber, various minerals, vitamins etc. have been recognized as immunity boosters today. In such a situation, along with education and training of better techniques of growing coarse grains, attention will have to be paid to connect the farmers with the online market. Innovation and research will have to be focused for advanced processing so that coarse grains can be brought into the category of commercial crops.
All the states will have to make a big preparation together to meet the growing demand for coarse grains at the national-international level. India is the largest producer of coarse cereals with a contribution of 41 percent globally but ranks fifth in global exports. The global millet market is estimated to exceed US$ 12 billion by 2025. Strategic initiatives will have to be taken to meet the increasing demand for millet in countries like Indonesia, Germany, Iran, Belgium, South Korea, Asia Pacific, the Middle East, European Union etc. India can take advantage of the growing global market demand and market opportunities through proper processing of millets, especially jowar and millets. Long-term investment has to be promoted to strengthen the integrated approach of various agencies to enhance their cultivation and marketing. Whose direct benefit will also be in the form of employment generation, by coordinating new technology and innovation in our traditional knowledge, we can set a record in the production of coarse grains. For this, special attention has to be paid to the availability of quality seeds. Bringing millets back into the mainstream of the food chain requires a multi-pronged approach, along with creating awareness among people and its business model.
Vikas Parashram Meshram is a journalist