Securing benefits from the most minor of millets in Madhya Pradesh


Securing benefits from the most minor of millets in Madhya Pradesh

Value Chain Development Climate Change Adaptation On-Farm Conservation Nutrition South Asia IFAD-EU NUS

A national stakeholder meeting was held in Bhopal, India last week (June 19-20) to finalize the work plan for the project “Linking agrobiodiversity value chains, climate adaptation and nutrition: Empowering the poor to manage risk” that is supported by IFAD, the EU and CCAFS.

Action for Social Advancement (ASA), the lead implementing partner in India, organized the meeting gathering government agencies, research organizations, NGOs and representatives of farmer communities. The project will build on ASA’s efforts to improve water availability, soil quality, community institutions, and market linkages in a holistic farm-based livelihood approach common to the organization and the project.

Presentations on the first day gave a thorough background on the nutrition status, climate, demography, and cropping systems in Madhya Pradesh to support discussions to finalize the choice of target crops and communities.

The project will work in Mandla and Dindori Districts in Madhya Pradesh, which have a high presence of indigenous peoples, particularly Baiga and Gond tribes. Indigenous peoples are a major focus of the project because of their importance in maintaining biodiversity and traditional knowledge that may be critical in addressing climate change.

Dr O.P Dubey from JNKVV University discussed the susceptibility of agriculture to climate change in Madhya Pradesh, where 70% of crops are rainfed. Warming and greater drought risk are bringing additional burden to the state already affected by chronic malnutrition. Dr. Saikat Datta Mazumdar (ICRISAT) presented that 27% of children under the age of five are underweight in the state, which is much higher than the national average of 10%.

Dr. Stefano Padulosi (Global Project Coordinator, Bioversity International) highlighted that minor millets are hardy and nutritious crops that could support adaptation to climate change, projected to have a negative impact on major crops like rice. He was enthusiastic about the opportunity to promote cultivation and use of these crops with their recent inclusion in the Indian Public Distribution System (PDS).

Minor millets kodo (Paspalum scrobiculatum) and kutki (Panicum sumatrense, little millet) are the most popular millets in the target region and will be the major focus of the project. Kodo millet is arguably the most neglected millet in India in terms of research and development, but it is also the most drought tolerant, as was shared by Dr. Oliver King of MSSRF. The project will enhance seed quality and availability of these millets and develop their linkage to markets, whether though the government procurement program, that still needs to be established, or private markets that are emerging with the rise of a health-conscious middle class.

Presenters identified many issues along the value chains of minor millets that should be addressed to enable their greater use. Dr. B Dyakar Rao of the Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR) asserted that if policies like the PDS can enhance consumption, then the supply side also has to be supported. The whole value chain is concerned, from production to processing technologies.

Minor millets are marginal on the market due in part to inconsistency in quantity and quality of production. Collective action and institution building are necessary to help farmers achieve scale. ASA has already established many producer companies and networks in the target region, which will be leveraged and strengthened for millet promotion over the next three years. The project will also connect with millet-producing self help groups that have been established in Madhya Pradesh through IFAD's Tejaswini Rural Women Empowerment Programme. A novel e-auction trading platform presented at the meeting by O.P. Agrawal (NCDEX NeML) will be explored as a means of filling the gap between farmers and buyers and raising farmers market intelligence.

Developing value-added millet products was discussed as an opportunity for enhancing income of producer groups but nutritionist Jessica Raneri (Bioversity International) cautioned that for better health, the recipes should not have high content of sugar, salt or trans fat. The project will ensure that any products developed contribute to overall better nutrition, potentially working with food technologists at ICRISAT or the Indian Nutrition Institute to assess the nutrition implications of processing steps.

Dr Suman Sahai (Gene Campaign) highlighted that the project must also take into consideration that minor millets are no longer a popular food in this area of India if compared with the south (e.g. Tamil Nadu State). Promotion will only work if all the value chain steps are addressed, including raising consumer awareness and demand for these crops. She also emphasized that the full range of neglected and underutilized species should be considered. Leafy vegetables for example, should be taken into consideration as well for promoting a more nutritionally balanced diet.

The people in Mandla and Dindoori have strong ties to the forest, with collection of fruits, nuts, leaves, and other products making a strong contribution to their livelihoods. The potential for underutilized vegetables and fruits to contribute to enhanced nutrition will be investigated in the project, starting with an exploratory survey and later offering nutrition training.

Value chain development and awareness campaigns are hoped to support the safeguarding of minor millets, which are in decline due to a shift toward modern varieties of major crops, mono-cropping and market orientation. This erosion of diversity, which threatens the climate resilience of farming systems, was emphasized by Elezabeth Thomas from the Madya Pradesh Biodiversity Board and echoed by field technicians and farmer representatives. For instance, farmer Daulat Nanda observed that foxtail (Setaria italica) and barnyard millet (Echinochloa frumentacea) were grown by his ancestors but have now almost disappeared. The project will encourage and support communities in establishing People's Biodiversity Registers to monitor local biodiversity and raise awareness for its' status and values.

The goal set by Ashis Mondal, executive director of ASA and coordinator for the project in India, is to “walk towards a realistic solution that will be good for everyone: the producers the consumers and the market”. From the exchanges at the meeting, it is clear that the work is off to a strong start!

The meeting program and presentations are available below. Similar meetings have also be taking place this month in Mali and Guatemala - the other countries participating in this global effort.

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