Miracle millets

Miracle millets

Crops & Climate Change

Miracle millets

Climate change is the principal agenda at most world summits today. That the changing climatic patterns are affecting the earth would be an understatement. If the temperature rises, the crop pattern and the farming system will be affected badly. Being a largely agricultural country, India has one solution, and this could be adopted in any country with minor changes. It seems that our local millets could yet provide the best answer to the global problem.

India has 85 million hectares of rainfed area spread across 180 districts. This constitutes approximately 60 per cent of the total farming area in the country. Rainfed farming contributes 44 per cent of the total foodgrain production. Even after 50 years of negligence, rainfed agriculture is providing 50 per cent of the total rural workforce and 60 per cent of cattle population of the country.

After the green revolution, top priority was accorded to rice and wheat. Hundreds of high-yield varieties were introduced by agricultural research centres. But at the same time, there was not much of an opportunity to grow crops like millets. Crops like sugarcane, paddy and wheat require more water. To fulfill this demand, underground water was exploited.

When wheat, rice disappear

Climate change portends less rain, more heat, reduced water availability and increased malnutrition. It is important to note that, once we cross the ceiling of two degree celsius temperature rise, wheat may disappear from our farming system. Wheat is an extremely thermal sensitive crop and it can’t withstand this temperature rise.

Similarly, rice is the most consumed grain in the world and the demand is increasing over the years. But current paddy cultivation methods are affecting the environment. Most farmers follow paddy farming in the standing water system. But methane gas emanating from inundated rice fields is a greenhouse gas.

If these two crops disappear from the farming sector, which are the crops that will fill the gap? Millets are the answer. Millets can be cultivated throughout the year, whereas wheat and paddy are seasonal crops. Millets are capable of growing under drought conditions; they can withstand higher heat regimes. Millets like Kodo millet, Proso millet, Little millet, Finger millet, Barnyard millet and Pearl millet grow under non-irrigated fields and also in low rainfall area with 200 to 500 mm. They can still provide a good yield under water scarcity.

What about food security?

One more problem that could occur in the near future is food insecurity. “Wheat and rice may give only food security, but millets give multiple securities like food, fodder, health, nutrition, and livelihood. More over, millets attract neither pest nor disease. Therefore, their need for pesticides is nil,” says P V Satheesh, Director of MINI (Millet Network of India), which is trying to popularise millets across the country. Increasing malnutrition has become a major problem for the government. Millets can be used to meet this demand, as they are a storehouse of nutrients.

Millet Network of India is an alliance consisting of more than 65 institutions, scientists, farmers, civil society groups representing over 15 states. The organisation has sought priority to millets as part of the Food Security Act. “We are seeking recognition of millets as a climate change compliant crop and promotion of its cultivation and consumption,” says P V Satheesh.

The new opportunities provided by climate change issues including drought and the National Food Security Act must be fully seized upon by governments to rejuvenate farming systems as well as livelihoods in the dry land areas by offering pride of place for millet based farming systems.

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