Millets have been an integral part of our diet for centuries. In addition to a plethora of health benefits, millets are also good for the environment with low water & input requirement. Millets are a group of small-seeded grasses that have been cultivated for thousands of years in many parts of the world, including Africa, Asia, and Europe. They are known for their tolerance to harsh growing conditions, such as drought and high temperatures, and are often grown in areas where other crops are not able to survive. Because their surface is rough, millets are known as coarse grains and include sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet, little millet, foxtail millet, proso millet, barnyard millet, and kodo millet.
Millets contain higher amounts of protein than other cereals and are even considered nutritionally superior to wheat and rice. Millets are also known to have a more balanced amino acid profile and are a good source of phytochemicals, which possess anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties. These coarse grains are abundant with nutrients like carbohydrates, protein, dietary fibre, good-quality fat, and minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, manganese, zinc and B complex vitamins. The health benefits of eating millet include improving immunity and preventing infections, helping in detoxifying the body, reducing the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases by lowering bad cholesterol levels, supporting metabolism and helping in managing diabetes and obesity because they are low in glycemic index and high in fibre, aid in the regulation of blood glucose levels. Millets contain both fibres and phytonutrients, which may help reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Millets, especially finger millet, contain a high amount of potassium that is essential for the proper functioning of the kidneys, brain and muscles. They are also gluten-free, making them a suitable option for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
In addition to their nutritional benefits, millets also have the potential to improve food security in many regions. They have a short growing season and can be planted and harvested quickly, making them a reliable source of food even in times of drought or other natural disasters. Furthermore, they can be grown on marginal lands, which are often not suitable for other crops, and are able to fix atmospheric nitrogen, which allows them to be grown in low-fertility soils, and also helps to reduce the need for chemical fertilizers.
Another important aspect of millets is their role in sustainable agriculture. These grains require less water and fewer inputs compared to other crops, making them more environmentally friendly. They also have a low carbon footprint and are able to sequester more carbon in the soil than other crops, which helps to combat climate change.
To create awareness and increase the production & consumption of millets, the United Nations, at the behest of the Government of India, declared 2023 the International Year Millets so that these ancient grains can become more mainstream.
Millets are incredible ancestral crops with high nutritional value and can play an important role and contribute to the collective efforts to empower smallholder farmers, achieve sustainable development, eliminate hunger, adapt to climate change, promote biodiversity, and transform agrifood systems. Greater millet production can support the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and can provide decent jobs for women and youth and the revenue created can boost economic growth. The possibility of a health cereal alternative with millets, the risks associated with production shocks can be mitigated. The International Year of Millets 2023 and the push towards increasing millet production will contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. IYM 2023 hopes to galvanise interest in millets among various stakeholders like farmers, the youth and civil society and push governments and policymakers to prioritise the production and trade in these cereals.
Despite their many benefits, millets are often overlooked in favour of other crops, such as wheat and rice. The international year of millets will be an opportunity to raise awareness of the potential of these grains to improve food security and nutrition, support sustainable agriculture, and combat climate change. The UN is encouraging governments, civil society organizations, and the private sector to take action to promote the use of millet in food and agriculture. This includes increasing research and development on millet cultivation and processing, as well as promoting their consumption through education and marketing campaigns.