Minor Millet Promotion

Minor Millet Promotion

Minor millets including finger millet (Eleusine coracana), little millet (Panicum sumatrense), Italian / foxtail millet (Setaria italic), barnyard millet (Echinocloa crusgalli), proso millet (Panicum miliaceum) and kodo millet (Paspalus scrobiculatum) are important food grain and fodder crops in South Asia, particularly in marginal hilly and semi-arid regions. They hold a central role in local food cultures but their presence in the food basket has been in decline because of their lower marketability compared to other crops. Minor millets are hardy to diverse climatic stresses and are highly nutritious in terms of calcium, iron, fiber, essential amino acids and a low glycemic index.

Minor millets have great promise to address food security and poverty challenges in South Asia but they face challenges to greater use, including arduous processing and a stigma as “food of the poor”. Through the IFAD NUS project, Bioversity International and partners M.S. Swaminathan Foundation (India), LI-BIRD (Nepal), and the Nepal Agricultural Research Council have worked to develop the value chains of minor millets to enhance their contribution to the livelihoods of the rural poor and to strengthen the conservation of their genetic diversity. Using a holistic approach, activities were carried out at multiple levels of the value chain to encourage their greater cultivation, use and conservation.

Project Actions and Achievements

High Quality Seed

  • Participatory varietal selection was undertaken in Nepal and three locations in India.
  • In Kolli Hills, starting from 7,000 accessions of finger millet, Italian millet and little millet, farmers selected 2-3 varieties within each targeted crop.
  • Across the different locations, the selected varieties included both traditional and improved types. The selected varieties generally produced higher yields but other region-specific characteristics were also important in farmers choice, such as bold grain and high straw yield.
  • Quality seed production and seed sharing was promoted among farmers through participatory field demonstrations and training.

Cultivation Practices

  • Enhanced cultivation practices for millets were promoted with demonstration plots and trials comparing traditional and enhanced techniques. Intercropping, row planting, weeding, and fertilization were among the agronomic practices addressed.
  • Farmer-friendly sustainable intercropping systems were developed and tested through a participatory production refinement regime.
  • The advantage of mixed cropping of finger millet and horsegram  or black gram over sole cropping was demonstrated in Nepal to produce higher economic returns. Intercropping legumes also benefits soil fertility.

Harvest, Post-Harvest Processing

  • Easy-to-operate mechanical grain processing micro-mills were introduced in project villages in India and Nepal that reduced drudgery for women in processing millets.
  • Women’s self-help groups were organized to manage these mills and they were engaged in capacity building for on processing.

Value Addition and Marketing

  • Women’s self-helps groups were trained in  value-addition, product development and marketing.
  • Novel food products and recipes incorporating millets were developed including biscuits, muffins, bread, noodles, namkin, malt, rolls, cookies and cakes.
  • Testing was performed on the shelf life of small millet products
  • Consumer preferences were investigated and revealed that small millet products were highly acceptable among rural and urban populations. Taste tests indicated consumer preference for specific value-added products.
  • Commercial partnership with bakery and hotel outlets were developed for selling value added millet products in Pokhara, Nepal. Among these Annapurna Bakery and Sital Agro-Products produced and marketed cookies, bread, namkin and roasted millet malt.
  • Awareness raising on the nutritional value of millets was brought about through demonstrations, farmers fairs and exhibitions, (dissemination of recipes)  TV programmes and radio shows, including the All India Radio progamme in India.
  • Economic assessment of value-added product marketing was carried out.
  • Economic analyisis of local bevereages rakshi and jad in Pokhara, Nepal was favorable but the market for these products in Kathmandu was marginal
  • In Jeypore and Kolli Hills, value addition of a ton of millet offered income gains ranging from 1000 to about 2000 INR depending on the product.
  • Marketing minor millets as a health food in India was determined to increase the profit for the producers fourfold.

Diversity Conservation

  • Ex situ conservation:

    • Accessions collected and stored in the community seed bank in Chennai. 

  • In situ conservation : 

    • Increased millet area and diversity cultivated
    • Establishment of village seed banks
    • Promotion of seed sharing among farmers

Capacity Building

  • Documentation and Monitoring

    • Eco geographic surveying, diversity mapping, genetic and cultural erosion assessments
    • Characterization of germplasm for nutritional and other market traits. Nutrition analyses revealed minor millets to be a good source of quality protein, minerals, phytochemicals and vitamins.
    • Documentary film on finger millet produced as a useful tool in training programs
    • Establishing a supportive policy environment
    • Efforts made to sensitize policy makers on the critical importance of millets, its primary to the income generation poor farmers and the unique advantages of these crops as health foods.
    • Organization of the International Consultation on the Role of Biodiversity in Achieving the Millennium Development Goal on Freedom from Hunger and Poverty jointly organized between Bioversity, MSSRF, and GFU attend by ministers and other senior policy makers.

  • Training

    • Training provided to farmers regarding seed production and storage
    • Women self-help group members were trained in marketing, packaging, quality standards, account keeping and entrepreneurship.