From the Green Revolution to the Millet Revolution, India’s consumption patterns have traversed a long journey
India has come a long way since Independence, gradually evolving from being a ship-to-mouth to a food-secure economy. This has largely been made possible through the phenomenal agricultural growth rate that was achieved through the Green Revolution, making India a net exporter of food grains. The Public Distribution System (PDS), National Food Security Act, 2013, Antyodaya Anna Yojana and a range of other schemes have helped ensure food to all. However, these efforts have not yet helped India achieve nutritional security. With the PDS extensively providing wheat and rice to the masses at subsidised rates, the consumption pattern has become distorted. Resultantly, our population has become increasingly dependent on these high-carbohydrate grains, switching away from their own traditional and nutritionally more-balanced diets. Thus, there is the wide prevalence of malnutrition in India. The Global Hunger Index 2017 ranks countries based on four indicators: undernourishment, child mortality, child wasting and child stunting. India stands at the 100th rank out of 119 countries as per the Index, thereby indicating the alarming incidence of hunger and malnutrition in India. According to the National Family Health Survey 2015-16, the percentage of children under five years of age suffering from stunting, wasting, and underweight stand at 38.4, 21 and 35.7 (per cent) respectively. The poor nutritional status of children can be attributed primarily to poor and unbalanced diets of mothers.
The Global Nutrition Report 2017 advocates nutrition to be the driving force to end malnutrition, poverty and fight disease. Improved nutrition is directly linked to productivity gains both in education and employment. Nutrition occupies the centre-stage for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda. Contributing to a third of the global burden of malnutrition, India needs to make concerted efforts to achieve the SDG of Zero Hunger. Improving malnutrition needs to begin at the grassroots level, mitigating it among women and children. The National Health Mission and the National Nutritional Strategy have been launched to provide improved nutrition and ensure adequate access. There is a need for concerted efforts by the government to provide a more balanced basket through the Public Distribution System.
To achieve this goal, a thrust would be provided to promote millets under the PDS. These coarse grains are highly nutritious, gluten-free with nutritional values comparable to that of the traditionally consumed wheat and rice. Millets can play a significant role in achieving a balanced diet. Millets have been traditionally consumed by various communities and tribes; however, over the years, both their supply and demand have substantially declined. Thus, there is a strong premise to promote their inclusion in mainstream dietary consumption. In fact, the year 2018 has been declared as the 'National Year of the Millets' by the government to boost their production and consumption.
Efforts to include millets as a part of the daily diet for consumers would be achieved through both supply and demand-side factors. The Union Budget announcement of ensuring a remunerative MSP to farmers of 23 major crops (including millets) is expected to encourage higher millet production. Government schemes like National Agricultural Market (e-NAM), and Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) are also likely to bolster supply. Furthermore, millets can be cultivated with much more ease as compared to other crops based on their minimal requirement for water and fertilisers, as well as adaptability to different soil types. Since they require very few external inputs, they can play a role in tackling the environmental and energy crisis. As for the demand side, first, millet consumption would be encouraged by providing a major thrust through the PDS, which serves over two-thirds of the Indian population. Promotion of millets through PDS would have the benefit of reaching the underprivileged sections of the society – the biggest sufferers from undernutrition. Second, by potentially including these coarse cereals as a part of various government nutrition programmes like the Mid-Day-Meal Scheme (MDM) and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme is likely to generate adequate demand. Mass awareness campaigns to educate people about the nutrition value of millets may also encourage consumers to diversify their food basket. The consumption of millets in urban areas has also witnessed a spike in the recent years. As people become increasingly health-conscious, millets are gaining popularity as a wonder cereal to many. Major brands are investing in selling multi-grain millet flour, millet chips and ice-creams. Similarly, restaurants are coming up with millet-based dishes like millet sandwiches, waffles, breakfast cereals and bread – promoting them as healthier alternatives. In order to change the perception of the consumers, the government has renamed jowar, bajra, ragi and other millets as 'nutri-cereals' highlighting their nutritive value. This renewed focus on these nutri-cereals may help in moving closer to attaining nutritional security in India.
(The author is Young Professional Young Professional, Economic Advisory Council to Prime Minister. The views expressed are strictly personal)