The right kind of food with sufficient millets is what Dr Khadar Vali, scientist and millet promoter advocates
It is a story that dates back to the sub-continent’s ancient history, where centuries-old texts carry ample references on its cultivation and consumption patterns along with the ensuing health benefits.
Millets are fast gaining recognition as super foods, given their nutritive value and curative properties. Back in the day, due to their benefits, they were served as a staple meal.
The year 2023, which is The International Year of Millets (IYM), propagates the cultivation and consumption of millets. In the last century, the use of millets was slotted as bird and animal feed, indirectly indicating as being less desirable for human consumption.
The IYM has facilitated to dispel many such erroneous perceptions.
December is the last month of IYM in 2023. An International Conference on Millets along with a Millet Expo will be hosted by Sri Sri Naisargik in collaboration with The University of Agricultural Sciences, GKVK from 9-11 December, at the Art of Living International Centre.
“My dream is to have a healthy and sustainable society,” says Dr Khadar Vali, widely known as the Millet Man of India. Meeting up with the Padma Shri awardee, who will be one of the key speakers at the conference, South First struck a lengthy conversation on the status of millets in India and the way forward.
Khadar Vali is a US-returned scientist, dedicated to building a healthy society after resigning from a lucrative job in an MNC. Native of Kadapa District in Andhra Pradesh, he settled in Mysuru.
After MSc (Ed) from the Regional College of Education, Mysuru, and PhD on Steroids at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, he worked as post doctoral fellow on Environmental Science at Beaverton Oregon and later as a scientist at CFTRI in Mysuru.
As an independent scientist, he has undertaken several research projects in the food and health sector.
Excerpts from the interview.
Millets can be grown on arid or semi-arid land. It requires minimal water for cultivation, minimal inputs and maintenance. They are most suited for dry land cultivation where water is limited, inputs are low, and soil fertility is low.
Add to this the short gestation period for harvesting that permits multiple cropping in a year and the resilience to face any climatic condition. Millets emerge as a tailor made crop for small and marginal farmers.
Which of the following is not a Millet?
— International Year Of Millets 2023 (@IYM2023) December 7, 2023
A kilogram of millet cultivation requires 300 litres of water while the rice equivalent needs 5000 litres. And a kilo of millet can feed ten while the same of rice can feed only five.
Does this math not indicate food security?
If you simply bring in the huge swathes of uncultivated wastelands, marginal lands under millet cultivation, you have food for everyone.
And millets, being most environment friendly, can help to bring back vegetation on barren lands?
Besides the ability to grow on any type of land, under the most severe climatic conditions of excessive heat and dry conditions, limited water, millets also have the capacity to arrest soil degradation.
Their thick grass, besides holding back the soil, attracts plenty of birds whose droppings naturally increase soil fertility. Millets are also known for being carbon neutral in terms of carbon absorption from the environment.
They are thus an excellent solution to bring back vegetation on barren lands as well as address global warming. But, unfortunately environmentalists concerned about depleting forest cover and degradation of soil are totally silent on this.
A fact that needs questioning.
Siridhanayalu, the five positive grains comprising of five millets— Foxtail (Navane), Kodo (Arka), Little (Saame), Banyard (Oodalu) and Browntop (Korle) — come with a high fibre content of 8 to 12.5 per cent and carbohydrates of 60 to 69 per cent where the ratio between the two comes to 5.5 to 8.8.
Warmth in a bowl: Embrace winter’s chill with the hearty goodness of Bajra Khichdi, a comforting blend of nourishing pearl millet and aromatic spices
— International Year Of Millets 2023 (@IYM2023) December 6, 2023
When the ratio falls below 10, the curative properties are high. Millets release glucose into the bloodstream gradually over a period of 6 to 8 hours after eating. This is unlike the glucose rush that occurs from rice and wheat.
Combined with this, millets are rich in micronutrients and proteins. They are gluten free and a rich source of iron. Positive grains are nutritious. They can be grown in dry land with just 20 cm of rainfall.
The rich fibre content cleanses the blood and body, the thinner blood facilitating better circulation and supplying the right type and enough nutrients to the various organs. Their high nutritive content, anti-oxidant properties, low glycaemic index aid in treating many lifestyle related diseases.
Again, it is unfortunate, the health professionals, though aware, are not promoting millet consumption or espousing its immense curative properties as well as disease preventive potential.
India is the largest producer of millets in the world. But, unfortunately the production has reduced due to disincentives prevailing in the form of input subsidies, Minimum Support Price offered only for rice, wheat and other cereals by the government and the supply of the same through Public Distribution System resulting in lower consumption of millets.
Which millet is often considered a good source of iron and is known for its tiny, round grains?
— International Year Of Millets 2023 (@IYM2023) December 3, 2023
Plenty of disinformation on millets such as spoilage on long duration of storage as compared to rice and wheat further deter their purchase.
We need to speak openly about facts like how harvested millets can stay healthy even for two decades if the husk is kept intact, unlike rice and wheat which would spoil.
The millet farmers also work with thin margins unlike their rice and wheat counterparts, prompting them to desist from cultivating.
In short, it is a step-motherly treatment meted out by the policy measures currently in place towards millet cultivation that has proved to be the major challenge.
Concrete, positive changes in policies are imperative to increase both cultivation and market for millets. After all, if farmers cultivate positive grains, there can be no drought in the next 50 years!
We need to reach out to the farmers at the ground level. They need to be educated on the benefits of both cultivation and consumption. The farmers need to be strongly sensitised on the value addition of growing millets as in monetary, health benefits. They also need to be made aware of low water requirement, inputs and maintenance, the strong climatic resilience which makes it the most dependable crop even in dire conditions.
— International Year Of Millets 2023 (@IYM2023) December 2, 2023
There is a need to explain why millets are the ultimate health food to change the perception of consumers.
What: The International Conference and Expo on Millets by Sri Sri Naisargik & The University of Agricultural Sciences, GKVK
When: 9-11 December
Where: The Art of Living International Centre, Kanakapura Main Road,
Login to www.icmof.in for programme details)