Article Overview

  • Origin of millets
  • Millets and types
  • Why were Millets lost?
  • Efforts to bring back millet
  • Revival of millets

Origin of millets

Historically, millet formed a significant chunk of the human diet. Over the years since its discovery, millets have gained labels such as “orphan grain,” “ancient grain,” “miracle grain,” and “pseudocereal,” among others. Reports state that they were the first grains domesticated back in 5500 BCE. Millets were grown in Africa and Asia; today, they are grown in Europe and the Americas. Millets can grow in conditions of drought, dry, and high-temperature conditions. Millets are found to be an essential part of Indian, Chinese, and Korean culture. India is the world leader in millet production, with a share of 41% in the year 2020. Drought-resistant ideal crop of the 21st century to combat climate change.

In several parts of the world, the earliest archaeological plant finds include millets, as is the case in regions of India, Mexico, China, and Africa. Millets also formed essential parts of the prehistoric diet in Indian, Chinese Neolithic, and Korean Mumun societies. While in some regions, millet cultivation follows the introduction of domesticates; in other areas, it is an independent process preceding the introduction of crops from different regions, as in South India and West Africa.

Millets and types

Millets belong to the family of grasses, Poaceae, and are grown as cereal crops, fodder, and human food. They are classified as major and minor millets. Millets are highly nutritious, with 65-75% carbohydrates, 7-12% protein, 2-5% fat, and 15-20% dietary fiber, and serve as good sources of micronutrients such as minerals and vitamins. Millets are starchy grains, which are gluten-free, and non-acid forming, which has increased their popularity in recent times.

Type Description Millet Grain Use 
Major Grains without husk Sorghum  Pearl Millet  Finger Millet Majorly grown for food in Asia and Africa and fodder in the Americas 
Minor Grains with husk Foxtail Millet  Kodo Millet  Barnyard Millet  Little Millet Most minor millets are grown for fodder, and few as food grains 
Types of Millet

Why were millets lost?

The word “Green Revolution” was coined in 1968 by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented in the 1940s to increase the yield of food crops such as rice and wheat. The organizations such as International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), Mexico, and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Philippines, extensively worked on developing varieties of wheat and rice. At this point, the agricultural industry focused on cultivating high-yielding crops like wheat and rice; their cultivation was due to their smooth textures.

During the green revolution, millets were sidelined by wheat and rice cultivation. Millets are coarse grains and result in rough products with unfavorable textures. As a result, many products such as baked goods, snacks, ready-to-eat food, infant food, and extruded food, among others, were introduced in the market. Eventually, millet was labeled as “poor man’s food” and phased out of the Indian plate. This happened due to the low yields of millet and losing the battle against the mightier cereals, rice, and wheat. However, Ragi was one of the millets which were still popular and considered a healthy food source, while we forgot the other millets.

Over the years, more than 100 species of millets have been cultivated by humans. Out of the millets, foxtail millets became a worldwide crop; this can be credited to the development of Chinese civilization.

Efforts to bring millet back

Millets gained popularity in the Western world around the 1970s and were presented as a nutritious and delicious whole grain. Millets also gained popularity because they are gluten-free and added as an option for masses who are sensitive to gluten. However, the rising allergenicity from gluten-rich food consumption led people to consciously accept millet, which encouraged the industry and academia to make unique millet-based products. There’s been somewhat of a finger millet resurgence in Africa. In Kenya, the grain sells at a higher price than that sorghum and maize. In Uganda, more area is producing finger millet.

Millets have received far less research than the “big” cereals (rice, wheat, and barley). Indeed, statistics on millet production are abysmal, as they are grouped as “minor cereals” in most national and FAO statistics. “This is partly the product of a historical European bias against millets, especially among the former colonial powers of Northern and Western Europe, where millet cultivation is negligible.”

Revival of millets

Programs and steps by the government in India to revive millets-

  1. International year of millets
  2. Initiative for Nutritional Security through Intensive Millets Promotion (INSIMP)
  3. Production Linked Incentive Scheme for Food Processing Industry (PLISFPI)
  4. The Pradhan Mantri Formalization of Micro food processing Enterprises (PMFME)
  5. Odisha Millet Mission (OMM)
  6. Karnataka Organic Farming Policy
  7. Comprehensive Revival of Millets cultivation’ by tribals in north Coastal Andhra and parts of Rayalaseema
  8. Millet Village Scheme
  9. Introduction of millets in PDS, mid-day meal
  10. The Nutrihub-Technology Business Incubator (TBI)

Some statistics on the Indian millet market

According to the Indian Institute of Millet Research, the market share of millets is $9 billion; and projected to touch $25 billion by 2025. India produces 15.53 million tons of millet annually, contributing 10% to the country’s food basket. It exported close to $26 million worth of millets in 2021. The much-smaller branded millet food market is worth ₹500 crores, but with growing interest in millet, it is anticipated to touch ₹10,000 crores by 2025.



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