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Karnataka to popularise millets through product development

In partnership with ICRISAT and IIMR, Karnataka launched an initiative to popularise millets through product development as well as branding of Karnataka ragi (finger millet).

In partnership with International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR), the Government of Karnataka today launched an initiative to popularise millets through product development as well as branding of Karnataka ragi (finger millet). This is driven by Karnataka, following an intense day of insights from food processors on the major hurdles they face and the market opportunities identified.

Commonly seen as a traditional food for the poor, with low investment along the value chain, millets face many challenges to reach its full potential. This perception is set to change, as the health and environmental advantages of millets are being recognised by the governments and other actors in the food industry. 

Much of the efforts to date have been to increase millet productivity at the farm level. Additional efforts are needed to develop the demand side, while also making sure the farmers benefit from this.

As Karnataka is the highest producer of ragi in India, producing around 70 percent, an additional complementary initiative is to brand Karnataka ragi to build a unique image to further develop consumer interest in ragi.

“Millets are good from multiple points of view. So far our efforts have focused on the supply side and there’s been considerable success in increasing yields and more resilient varieties. But I feel the demand side has hardly been touched at all. We need a pull from the market to sustain the supply side. Ragi compares well on most accounts with quinoa and compares better on many other accounts. So what is holding the ragi back? That’s what we want to find out and overcome through this initiative,” said Krishna Byre Gowda, Minister for Agriculture, Government of Karnataka.

The Government of Karnataka has been scaling up technologies with farmers, through mega programmes over the past six years. These include Bhoochetana, Bhoo Samruddhi and the recently launched, Golden Agriculture Village Scheme. The Karnataka government is keen to ensure that these efforts are fully capitalised on, by investing in demand driven initiatives.

A way forward was agreed upon by the Government of Karnataka, representatives from major food processors and supporting government and non-government bodies. They agreed on the outline of the initiative and recognised existing opportunities to build the millet market, both within India and globally.

The action plan includes building a public private consortium of partners to focus on the demand pull for millets through real actions. A more detailed roadmap will be planned over the next few months and once there is clarity on the best strategy to raise awareness and create a buzz around millets and especially the key messages for millets, the Karnataka government will have a larger workshop in Bengaluru with a wider range of stakeholders.

“There is a need to change the image of millets. Make them more modern and create a buzz around them. Developing appropriate consumer products is a key component to achieve this. That’s why we have started a Smart Food campaign with a motto; good for you, good for the planet and good for the smallholder farmer. They are highly nutritious and have health benefits, use less water and have high drought tolerance and increasing their market value benefits farmers,” said David Bergvinson, Director General, ICRISAT.

Dr B Dayakar Rao, Principal scientist at IIMR said during the launch, “There are many reasons why millets are not a regular product in the consumer basket. One of the reasons is the fact that not many processing technologies have been developed yet. It’s not enough to just brand a commodity and take it to the market, an entire value chain is needed. We are doing that and I am confident this partnership will make millets popular to consumers.”

In the workshop, some challenges were identified such as consumer’s do not view millets as a modern product, limited awareness of health benefits, scientific information to substantiate any health claims, central and clear information about millets and the technologies, lack of grading and standards, need for more food processing technologies, breeding/varieties especially for processing qualities have to be developed.

Millets, often called nutri-cereals, are highly digestible, gluten free, have low glycemic index and are high in antioxidants. Recent studies have also shown that pearl millet has the potential to fight iron deficiency, the biggest nutrient deficiency facing the world, especially prevalent among women and children across India and sub-Saharan Africa.

Some varieties of pearl millets survive temperatures of up to 64 degree Celsius. The crop can be harvested within 60 days, as against 100-140 days for wheat. While 2,100 mm of water is used during the growing period for sugarcane and 1,250 mm for rice, millets require less than 500 mm of water. Finger millet and pearl millet can be grown with 350 mm of water, while sorghum requires 400 mm of water. 

Photograph: (L – R) Krishna Byre Gowda, Minister for Agriculture, Karnataka, Dr David Bergvinson, Director General, ICRISAT, Joanna Kane-Potaka, Director – Strategic Marketing & Communication, ICRISAT and Dr Suhas P Wani Director – Asia program, ICRISAT.

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