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Millets: The Miracle Grains
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Millets: The Miracle Grains

The United Nations General Assembly at its 75th session in March 2021 declared 2023 the International Year of Millets

Post by DR. TAHIR SALEEM on Monday, January 23, 2023

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Millet crops comprise sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum), finger millet (Eleusine coracana) and small millets – namely foxtail millet (Setaria italica), proso millet (Panicum miliaceum), kodo millet (Paspalum scrobiculatum), little millet (Panicum sumatrense) and barnyard millet (Echinochloa frumentacea). These crops are grown on fragile marginal and drought-prone environments in the semi-arid tropics of Africa and Asia. Millet crops provide food, feed, fodder and biofuel, and the dried vegetative parts are also used to make shelters; thus the crops are known for their whole plant utilization. Also, small millets are largely cultivated by tribal farmers for their sustenance. These crops are environmentally friendly because of their low water input requirement. The majority of millet grains contain higher protein, fibre, calcium and mineral content than wheat and rice, and so are often hailed as ‘noble’ or ‘miracle’ grains and ‘nutri-cereals’.


Cultivation of millets is of primary importance to the millet-growing rainfed areas. Millets are either grown as a pure crop or intercropped with pulses and oilseed, providing a composite, nutrient-packed farm. Despite these attributes, the importance of millets in both production and consumption has declined in India mainly as a result of the patronage given to rice and wheat and the growth in their production, procurement and distribution. The shift towards fine cereal (rice and wheat) cultivation and consumption in India is a consequence both of supply-led factors (such as subsidized input supply) and demand-led factors (government policy to supply fine cereals at subsidized prices, output incentives, etc.), which have resulted in the lowering of consumer demand and in turn have reduced the acreage under millets. Other factors, such as the convenience of cooking, difficulties in large-scale millet processing and relatively lower productivity giving economic advantage to the cultivation of fine cereals, are also responsible for the shift from millets to other cereals. Apart from the nutritional disadvantage of losing millet from the diet, extensive cultivation of cereals using groundwater in arid areas is threatening water security in the country.


The regular consumption of millets has been reported to be associated with a myriad of health benefits. The health benefits are, in part, due to the presence of several phenolic phytochemicals, a group of compounds comprising phenolic acids, flavonoid-type and tannins. These are mainly present in the seed coat. It is important therefore to consume these grains whole, as any attempt to rid millet grains of their seed coat will result in significant loss of these important phenolic compounds. These compounds are responsible for the prevention and reduction of oxidative stress, having anti-cancer, anti-diabetic and anti-hypertensive properties, and are also important in the prevention of Cardio Vascular diseases (CVD).


 The various health benefits of millets are

  • All millets are gluten free and are recommended for the gluten-intolerant and coeliac patients.
  • They have relatively low glycaemic index (GI) and low glycaemic load (GL) and so can reduce the risk of diabetes mellitus.
  • They contain invisible fat (which lowers low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and improves high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol) and also have high antioxidant activity and help to control blood sugar.
  • Being high fibre and low calorie food, millets are beneficial for obesity, diabetes, Cardio Vascular diseases and inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Millets are rich in phytochemicals, phytic acid (lowers cholesterol) and phytate (helps in reduction of cancer risks).
  • Millets form a complete protein source and when combined with legumes are ideal for a vegetarian diet.


In Kashmir, Foxtail Millet, Setaria italica (Kashmiri ‘‘Shol’’) and Proso Millet, Panicum miliaceum (Kashmiri ‘‘Ping’’) were cultivated from ancient times. Foxtail Millet was more common and was sown as substitute for paddy, when it was apparent from snowless mountain peaks that water availability will not be adequate for cultivation of latter. Proso millet was sown in rainfed dry lands. Husked grains of these crops are hard to cook and were eaten as porridge. As the grains of these small millets are well protected in glume encasements, their processing to usable form is not so easy. The hulls are difficult to remove by the conventional milling and the process is time consuming and labour intensive.


Walter Lawrence known for land settlement in Kashmir came here first time in 1889 and visited almost every village of Kashmir. In his book ‘The Valley of Kashmir’ he has made mention of these crops being extensively grown throughout Kashmir at that time. The cultivation of these crops has now been abandoned in Kashmir excepting in few remote hilly areas falling in Districts of Bandipora and Kupwara in north Kashmir. Elsewhere in Kashmir these are now forgotten crops.


Millets are incredible ancestral crops with high nutritional value. Millets can play an important role and contribute to our collective efforts to empower smallholder farmers, achieve sustainable development, eliminate hunger, adapt to climate change, promote biodiversity, and transform agrifood systems. They are therefore an ideal solution to increase regional self-sufficiency and reduce reliance on imported cereal grains. Greater millet production can support the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and can provide decent jobs for women and youth.


The United Nations General Assembly at its 75th session in March 2021 declared 2023 the International Year of Millets. It provides a unique opportunity to raise awareness of, and to direct policy attention to the nutritional and health benefits of millet consumption, the suitability of millets for cultivation under adverse and changing climatic conditions and creating sustainable and innovative market opportunities for the benefit farmers and consumers globally.



(The Author is Assistant Professor, Krishi Vigyan Kendra Bandipora. Email: tahirsaleem08@gmail.com)

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