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Karnataka’s Unlikely Hero, the Humble Millet, Is Helping Farmers Fight Drought & Citizens Get Healthy

At a time when farmers across large parts of the country are grappling and struggling with the advent of drought, the Karnataka state government has taken it upon itself to solve the crisis by drafting a far-reaching long-term plan to slowly wean the public and the farmers away from commercial crops like rice and lead them towards millet. And the government is also hoping to make people healthier in the process.

Confused?

Well, decades ago, millet was actually popular in India and especially in Karnataka. But the advent of the Green Revolution meant that high-yielding crop varieties like rice and wheat became more popular. It also meant that millets were quietly shunted to the corner and delegated to its current status as the “poor man’s” crop. But given that millets don’t require as much water and can sustain high temperature, the government is hoping to help it make a triumphant comeback into our lives.

Krishna Byre Gowda, the current Minister of Agriculture, states that millets are ideal for farmers who will be affected by drought. He notes, “In Karnataka and other states as well, so many farmers are dependent on rain-fed agriculture. And especially in areas where there is now a real risk of a drought. To them, millets can be an ideal alternative.”

However, the state government is certain that it will be able to convince people to adapt to millets through a series of initiatives it has planned. For one, it hopes to entice people with the health benefits that come from adapting millets into daily diet (keep diabetes at bay!) and it also provide as many incentives as possible to farmers so they make the switch.

Here are some of the programmes the government has already undertaken:

 

Anna Bhagya scheme 

Image for representation. Photo source

For a few years now, the Karnataka state government has been trying to popularise the consumption of millets through the state’s flagship scheme called Anna Bhagya. In 2016, in an interview with The Mint, the minister said that there are plans to increase the supply of millets through the state distribution system. The scheme traditionally allowed families living below the poverty line to buy a kg of rice for Rs. 1.

Conducting workshops for farmers in the state

It isn’t enough to convince top chefs to cook with millets but also to help farmers through the process of shifting to millets. That is being done through a series of state-wide workshops. Experts on organic production and value-chains will address these sessions and provide farmers with information on organic market trends, demand, certification process, export potential etc. 

Incentive to farmers

Image for representation. Photo source: Wikimedia

According to the minister, in order to ensure that the farmers are adequately compensated, the state will be buying millets from them at 30 per cent more than the minimum support price (MSP). The state will also provide them with inputs to raise the crops as well as provide farmers with free millet seeds.

Getting scientists to pitch it

Scientists in agricultural universities across the state are currently working on creating new varieties of millet. In an interview with Bangalore Mirror, Gowda said, “All our agriculture universities are busy inventing new varieties of millet using genomic science techniques. In the next couple of years, we want to bring in as much area, especially dry land, as possible under millet cultivation. It not only solves the water scarcity problem but also helps farmers overcome the worst crisis.”

Workshops for chefs

In one of the most unique ways to promote the consumption of millet among the masses, the government partnered with a number of top hotels in Bengaluru city in order to get them to incorporate millet in their menus. In order to get more hotels and chefs on board, the government recently held a workshop for close to 100 chefs in the city to show them ways to cook millet. The Graze restaurant in Taj Vivanta in the city is one of the main partners of the venture.


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Getting the dietitians on board

The state is also in active talks with dietitians and nutritionists who work in the region to help raise awareness about millets and advocate its health value to the common man.

Getting people to run for it

The state organised the 5k Millet Marathon on April 16, 2017 in Bengaluru and the event, which was held to create awareness about organic foods and millet and saw the participation of over 2,000 people from the city.


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The National Organics & Millets Fair 2017

The biggest undertaking by the government in order to push healthy eating to the general public is through a three-day trade fair that will not only popularise the grain but will also aim to connect farmers directly to the business stakeholders. The event, which is called, National Organics & Millets Fair 2017, will be held from April 28 to April 30.  It aims to provide farmer federations with a national platform to showcase their produce to retailers, bulk marketers and exporters. There will be exhibitions, B2B meetings and conferences held to do just that. But it will also aim to please the public. The event will boast a massive food court that will offer various forms of delicacies all made from (you guessed it) millet! 

The event will take place in Tripura Vasini, Palace Grounds

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