One serious issue relates to the needs of the farmers in Odisha. Whether Ragi would ensure adequate return to make a farmer voluntarily give up option to take up cotton or maize or niger farming needs to be examined carefully.
Millet promotion must, but Odisha also needs homegrown Onion, Potato and Drum-Sticks more urgently
India’s five major millet-producing states are Karnataka, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan. Among millets, Bajra accounts for the largest production (about 11 million MT) which is over 60% of India’s total millet production (18 million MT). Jowar is the second largest millet contributing about 5 million MTs accounting for over 26.5% of total millet production. Ragi (Finger Millet), known as Mandia in Odisha, has a share of 12% to total millet production of the country. India produces about 2 million MTs of Ragi (11% of total millet production). Two percent of the total millet production is from small millets. Eighty percent of Asia’s millet production is from India. India’s global share is about 20%. Up to 1965-70, India’s millet production contributed 20% to country’s food basket. Over a period of time, production of wheat and rice increased while production of millets dwindled. Now millets contribute about 6% of the food basket.
Odisha produces very small quantity of millets. Largest contribution comes from Mandia (Ragi) with the crop grown in 1.17 lakh hectare. Total production of Ragi is 1.29 lakh MT with productivity at 1102 kg per hectare. Odisha contributes 2.15% to country’s Ragi production while Karnataka, the largest producer, produces over 66%, followed by Tamil Nadu (11.07%) and Uttarakhand 8.73%. Area under Bajra and Jowar in Odisha is negligible. Rice is, however, grown in Odisha in over 39 lakh ha. State production in 2019-20 was 96.37 lakh MT and productivity was 2453 kg/ha.
It would be worth examining the land-use pattern of the state’s croplands and then assess the extent to which Ragi could spread in Odisha. The state has a geographical area of 155.71 lakh ha of which total cultivated land is about 61.80 lakh ha (39.69%). The net area sown is about 54.24 lakh ha; which is 34.8% of the geographical area. Of the 61.80 lakh ha of cultivated area, 29.14 lakh ha is highland (47%), 17.55 lakh ha (28%) is medium land and 15.11 lakh ha (25%) is low land. Paddy is grown in 6.66 lakh ha of high land, 15.88 lakh ha medium land and 13.94 lakh ha of low land. Gross cropped area of the state is 82.01 lakh ha. In 2018-19, Paddy accounted for 46.28% of the gross cropped area, Millets 1.92%, Pulses 23.40%, Oil seeds 7.08%, Cotton 1.89%, Potato 0.30%, Sugarcane 0.30% and Fruits and other crops 15.60%.
Millet coverage of gross cropped area in Odisha has been varying from time to time. While it was 5.2% in 1970-71, it was 8.49% in 80-81, but declined to 3.67% in 90-91, 3.13% in 2000-01, 2.29 in 2010-11 and only 1.92 % in 2018-19. Reduction of area under millet in Odisha has been over 75%. A mission-mode drive should aim at covering up to 5% of the gross cropped area with emphasis on improved productivity mainly through improved seeds.
Odisha has been procuring huge quantity rice from producers at MSP and making available sufficient quantity under public distribution system at one rupee per kg. This arrangement has been reaching nook and corner of the state. Food preference of the people of the state for decades has been overwhelmingly rice and wheat-based. In this situation how Ragi, the predominant millet of the state, would emerge as the staple food even for a small segment of state’s population is not clear.
It is however true that Ragi has many characteristics that could make it eminently suitable for adoption as the preferred crop for high land farmers in rain deficit non-irrigated areas of the state. Requirement of water for Ragi is the lowest (350 mm) among crops like Maize (500 mg), Sorghum (400 mm), Wheat (650 mm) and Rice (1250 mm). Gluten free, high on calcium, protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin B and Phosphorus, and with its high fibre content, Ragi could be the preferred food for many. Its resilience to climate change makes it a contingent crop. Its adaptability to harsh climate conditions has made it grow in the coastal region around Kanyakumari as well as in the Himalayan foothills of Uttarakhand.
Odisha started with the Millet Mission in 2017 in 30 blocks in 7444 acres covering 8043 farmers. It was extended to 84 blocks in 15 districts and will cover 142 blocks in 19 districts in 2022-23. For the programme to succeed, many issues need to be addressed. These mainly relate to productivity and its acceptance by farmers as the preferred crop over competing crops like Cotton, Niger, Maize and Tree crops. It, however, looks highly unlikely that it would be an acceptable alternative to Rice under public distribution system and even in midday meal programme in schools. With increase in production, these issues would pose more serious challenge. It is also unlikely that even the rural consumers would give up Maggi or Samosa in favour of Ragi based cookies. Greater consumer resistance is likely in urban areas. It could emerge as an occasional heath food in some high end urban households.
Another serious issue relates to the needs of the state’s farmer. Whether Ragi would ensure adequate return to make a farmer voluntarily give up option to take up cotton or maize or niger farming needs to be examined carefully. Moreover, is Government paying the same attention to other crops which look more crucial? Chironji, for example, is a valuable produce which people collect from forests and sell. With adequate support, Chironji crop can be grown along the edge of the farmer’s plots. A farmer could earn over a lakh of rupees annually by selling the seeds. Mohua Tree would provide useful cattle-feed. Its promotion on farmer’s land is yet to be a government programme. Promotion of non-edible oilseed plantations is yet to be started in the state.
An Odisha rural household needs Onion with Pakhala and would welcome adequate supply of home-grown Onion. Widely held perception is only 15% of the state’s requirement is now met through local production. Potato Mission has been a great failure. The state needs exponential growth of production of Pulses that would provide higher return to the farmers. By promoting Drum-Stick in villages and even in urban kitchen gardens, we could provide a renewable source of highly nutritional food to Odisha households. This simple solution to Odisha’s persisting malnutrition problem has not been adopted. These important issues need to be taken up urgently and, in tandem, with promotion of Millets.
Just as Punjab could produce enough Rice and Wheat and contributed substantially to the country’s buffer stock, it should be possible for a state like Karnataka or Karnataka and Tamil Nadu together, to grow enough Finger Millet for meeting the emerging needs of this wonder crop. Most states perhaps need not take up the programme with the same zeal neglecting more pressing demands of other crops. A holistic approach would help.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. The author can be reached at email@example.com)