Coarse correction: Yogi govt looking to boost production of millets, maize

Millet farm | Wikimedia Commons
Driven by the overarching theme of doubling farmers’ income by 2022, the Yogi Adityanath government is working towards boosting the production of coarse cereals in Uttar Pradesh.

Coarse cereals require less water for irrigation, while their farm input costs are also economical compared to other crops such as wheat and paddy. The state government is encouraging farmers to cultivate prominent coarse cereals, including maize, jowar, bajra (millets) and jau (barley).

Currently, the total area under these four coarse cereals stands at almost two million hectares or 9.75 per cent out of the total 20.5 million hectares of cultivated area in UP. Production wise, the total yield of maize, jowar, millets and barley during 2016-17 stood at 4.7 million tonnes or a little under 9 per cent of the total food grain production of 55.7 million tonnes in UP, according to the state's agricultural department data.

UP agriculture minister Surya Pratap Shahi told Business Standard that while coarse cereals were extensively grown in UP, after the Green Revolution paddy and wheat became the chief food grains, while the cultivation of traditional crops took a backseat.

“Coarse cereals are rich in nutrition and need less water to grow, which ultimately proves economical for farmers. Besides, these cereals are in high demand by the food processing industry for the production of healthy snacks, such as cornflakes. However, the state's farmers do not grow these cereals to benefit from the market forces,” he lamented.

Shahi informed that in the coming kharif season, the state aims to increase the acreage under different food grains, including coarse cereals by 200,000 hectares. He underlined that coarse cereals were important for preserving food security and increasing farm income, apart from provising nutrition.

“We would provide subsidised seeds and market support to farmers for coarse cereals, including government purchase on the lines of paddy and wheat, to provide them with remunerative prices and encourage them to stick to these crops going forward,” he added.

Meanwhile, the government has asked the Chandra Shekhar Azad University of Agriculture and Technology, Kanpur to develop food grain varieties which need less water to grow.

Recently, the Adityanath cabinet has cleared the proposal of giving 50 per cent subsidy on high yielding seeds of coarse cereals, including barely, maize, jowar and millets. In total, the government would double the distribution of such high yield seeds from 5,500 tonnes to 11,100 tonnes during 2018-19.

During 2016-17, the government had distributed about 0.51 MT of seeds of all food grain varieties, including 0.11 MT of kharif and 0.4 MT of rabi varieties respectively.

The Narendra Modi government has been actively promoting millets and declared 2018 as the ‘National Year of Millets’. It is also working to include millets in the targeted public distribution system (PDS) and has already notified millets as ‘nutri-cereals’ for production, consumption and trade in the country. 

During 2017, the cultivation of coarse cereals in India was estimated at 25 million hectares, an increase of about 700,000 hectares over the previous year.

Recent studies have shown that consumption of coarse cereals could alleviate micronutrient deficiencies effectively for the majority of Indians. A diet that is removed from white, polished rice to include coarse cereals and wheat could help Indians tackle micronutrient deficiencies affordably and cut down greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with agriculture by up to 25 per cent.

Studies have also claimed that about 500 million Indians suffer from deficiencies in protein, micronutrients such as iron and zinc, and vitamin A. Micronutrient deficiencies are worse in urban than in rural areas, especially in low-income households. Rural counterparts fared better due to diversity in their cereal consumption pattern. Researchers have recommended a selection of wheat, maize and millet on the plate rather than rice to boost protein intake.

In mid-1960s, before the Green Revolution, millets are estimated to have been cultivated in almost 37 million hectares of area. Later, the government focused on high-yield varieties of wheat and rice, leading to a reduction of 40 per cent in the land area of coarse cereals.

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