“Promotion of the production and consumption of nutri-cereals is a policy shift in the right direction.” Discuss.One of the most important government took back in October 2020 was the focus on the production of millets, also now known as “nutri-cereals”. Giving examples of nutri-cereals like jowar, bajra and ragi, PM Modi also shared how the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has endorsed India’s call for declaring 2023 as the “International Year of Millets”. He spoke at length about how the government is incentivising the production of nutri-cereals to increase the intake of diverse and nutritious diets, improve their availability in markets and bring benefits to small and medium farmers, who are the main cultivators of coarse grains.
Usually grown by small and poor farmers on dry, low-fertile, mountainous, tribal and rain-fed areas, millets are good for the soil, have shorter cultivation cycles and require less cost-intensive cultivation. These unique features make millets suited for and resilient to India’s varied agro-climatic conditions. Moreover, unlike rice and wheat, millets are not water or input-intensive, making them a sustainable strategy for addressing climate change and building resilient agri-food systems.
In parallel, India saw a jump in consumer demand for ultra-processed and ready-to-eat products, which are high in sodium, sugar, trans-fats and even some carcinogens. This need was again met by highly-refined grains. Contrary to the popular belief, this phenomenon was not restricted to urban areas. With the intense marketing of processed foods, even the rural population started perceiving mill-processed rice and wheat as more aspirational. This has lead us to the double burden of mothers and children suffering from micronutrient deficiencies and the astounding prevalence of diabetes and obesity.
As the government sets to achieve its agenda of a malnutrition-free India and doubling of farmers’ incomes, the promotion of the production and consumption of nutri-cereals seems to be a policy shift in the right direction. Instead of working in silos, this multi-ministerial policy framework is a strategic move towards building an Atmanirbhar Bharat which resonates with the global call for self-sufficiency and sustainable development. For our part, we can begin the jan andolan by taking small steps towards choosing healthier foods, which are good for the environment and bring economic prosperity to our farmers.