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A giant push for millets
If Krishna Byre Gowda, Karnataka’s agriculture minister, has his way, it will soon no more be the rice-based masala dosa but ragi dosa and ragi roti which will dominate the menu at restaurants in Bengaluru and elsewhere in the state.

The state government has for some months now been giving a massive push to a return to the era of millets, ragi being the traditional staple food of the southern region and sorghum in the north. No longer considered an old fashioned grain, millets are now enjoying a rebirth with health and environmentally conscious people increasingly turning to this traditional family of grains. Acknowledged as a wonder grain, millets are gluten-free and contain lower carbohydrate content than rice, corn or wheat, and have higher levels of protein, fibre and minerals. In addition, millets are great for the environment as they have a low water and carbon footprint, and can weather climate change conditions. These superfoods, since they need minimal water and chemicals during cultivation, can be grown in drylands with low rainfall, and are low-input cost and low -risk crops for farmers. They are termed as the last standing crop in times of drought. 

 

Millets under PDS...

Today, Karnataka is one of the leading producers and consumers of millets in the country. In production, it stands third after Maharashtra and MP, with 2.01 million hectares under cultivation, and ragi and jowar being the main crops. It also stands at the top of the market with a huge demand for millets. Despite these, the consumption and cultivation of millets has been on the decline, mainly due to the consumers’ fascination with the glamourised rice and wheat. The state government in April launched new initiatives to revive millets production in the state. Among the steps are high bonus for government procurement and limited introduction of millets into the public distribution system (PDS). It is in fact the only state to have included millets such as jowar and ragi in the PDS since July 2015 in accordance with the recommendations in the National Food Security Act, 2013. Under this system, five kg of the 25 kg quota for cereals each month are millets, with jowar provided in the north of the state and ragi in the south. In 2016, Karnataka procured around 20 lakh quintals of millets from its farmers which was way short of the needs of the PDS where to provide five kg of ragi or jowar per month per family, the government has to procure a minimum of 50 lakh quintals of ragi and jowar. 

 

Efforts to increase usage…

The government is also planning an intensive programme to educate the farmers and the consumers through exhibitions and fairs. The annual krishi mela (mid-November) featured a House of Maize in a stunning tribute to the versatility of the grain. Some private entrepreneurs have already begun marketing value added products such as pappads, cakes and biscuits and beverages. The objective of the campaign is also to increase the intake of millets in the urban centres, the rationale being that this in turn will fetch more money for the farmer who will then have the incentive to go back to growing millets. One official told the online news portal Scroll that if there are positive signals from urban areas, the acreage might increase again and reverse the present trend where in one decade the area under ragi and jowar has shrunk by 30,000 hectares. Minister Gowda, while briefing the media on the government’s programme to push millets and popularise millet preparations in the urban areas, said: “we are working with various restaurants and institutes that make everything from waffles, bread and pastries, to cakes and cookies with millets. Mount Carmel College in Bengaluru has a cafe where we are working with them on making cupcakes with millets.” 

The effort to bring the glory days back to the millets appears to have started bearing fruit in a small measure. Visit any homestay in the state and the first things you are offered are local food dishes in which rice hardly plays a part. Malnad cuisine is so unbelievably different that it wins converts easily. For the city bred, dishes made from ragi and other millets have both exotic and nutrition value. If only he can take back the acquired taste to the urban centres!   

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