Karnataka bets big on millets to combat climate change and providing nutrition security

Karnataka bets big on millets to combat climate change and providing nutrition security
Over the years, Karnataka has been taking progressive steps in agriculture sector. In the past, one such initiative, Rashtriya eMarket Services (ReMS), an online platform for agriculture commodity trade has been the core idea behind launching the e-National Agriculture Market (eNAM) in 2015 by the Central government. With the threats looming from climate change and frequent droughts, the state is promoting millets as smart food. In an exclusive interview with Agriculture Post, NH Shivashankara Reddy, Minister for Agriculture, Government of Karnataka discussed issues ranging from its millets programme to various agricultural policies of the state.

What are the main objectives of promoting millets and organising Organics and Millets International Trade Fair 2019?
The major objectives of the promoting millets and organising Organics and Millets International Trade Fair is to establish market linkages between exporters and trading community with the farmers of organics and millets leading to increase in exports and domestic trade also; to showcase the strength of Karnataka in organics and millets; to provide business opportunities for the organic and millet farmers as well as buyers and other stakeholders; to provide an excellent opportunity to the marketers including food processors, equipment manufacturers involved in the field to showcase their product utility and diversity; to provide an excellent opportunity for farmers, buyers, sellers and exporters of organic produces and millets; to provide an opportunity to the organic farmers’ federation promoted by the state to showcase their wide ranging variety of organic and millet produces.

Millets are being promoted as smart food by Government of Karnataka, kindly elaborate how are they smarter than other foodgrains?
Across nations, consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of what they eat. They are in search of a health source that can provide the ideal balance of nutrition and sustenance for future generations. However, there is a lack of thought, of time, of options – leading to diets that are nutritionally deficient or even harmful. Hence, a subject of great interest is the Next Gen Smart Food for all, and particularly for Gen next. And millets are the new heroes. The global quest for Next Gen Smart Food leads to millets as the source! One of the oldest foods known to humanity, millets are nutri cereals that have been our staple diet for generations. They are the main source of income, dietary, energy and protein for a billion people in semi-arid parts of the world. They are well suited for India’s rainfed agriculture and nutrition requirements of the people. As food choices expanded after green revolution, share of millets in our diet declined. As imbalanced diets have led us to various health challenges, thus, we are now being forced to rediscover our own millets. Millets and organics are a great asset in the era of expanding lifestyle and diet based health challenges. They play a major role towards fitness and good health while furthering the interests of the farmers and environment. It’s time for each of us to grow smart, eat smart and live smart. Organics and millets, the Next Gen Smart Foods are the source of regeneration for Gen Next.

How has promoting millets been challenging in a country where people prefer to have rice and wheat as main course meal and what are the way outs?
It has been a challenging task to promote millets in our country. Consumer awareness creation was a challenge. Series of trade fairs and melas are being organised year after year. As a result of various promotional programmes, millet crops which had taken a backseat due to Green Revolution were given importance. To create publicity and awareness, organic and millet melas were conducted in various districts and in various localities of Bangaluru. As a result of providing incentives for the production of millets, the area under millet crops has grown over the years thereby increasing the production. Recipes made from rice and wheat also be prepared by using millets. For the people with difficulty in getting adjusted to the taste of millets, millet dishes could be started from 2-3 times a week, then one meal a day. The frequency can be increased upon acceptability improves. The 15 regional organic federations have been set up throughout the state to improve marketing and availability of organics and millets.

How are millets beneficial for providing food and nutrition security?
Millets have multiple benefits as compared to other foods. As health source, they have low Glycemic Index, Gluten free; high in nutrients, particularly minerals, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium; protein content varies from 6 to 11 percent; rich in dietary fibre, B-complex vitamins, essential amino and fatty acids and vitamin E. As power source for farmers, millets grow in hardy soils; survive in dry and low rainfall zones; need minimal water, nutrients and chemical sprays; low cost and risk; drought tolerant; high value fodder and so on. For the planet, they have low environmental footprint, minimal water and chemicals, resilient to climate change and less stress on the environment.

India over the decade has been facing erratic monsoon, resulting in frequent droughts as well as facing the threat of climate change. In this scenario, how can cultivation of millets help the country in food and nutrition security?
The global quest for nutritious food, security of farmers, sustainable agriculture and conservation of environment is fuelling a revolution in millets. Millets have provided food and nutritional security to the populations in the disadvantaged geographical regions. Their cultivation is the mainstay of rainfed farming which provide livelihood to nearly 50 percent of the total rural workforce and sustain 60 percent of cattle population in India. Agronomic advantages are that they are highly adapted to low rainfall conditions, able to withstand fairly long dry spells, recover fast after delayed rain, make them good contingent crops. Millets are highly resilient in adapting to different ecological conditions; ideal crops for climate change and contingency plantings.
Besides being farmer-friendly, the unique nutritional properties of millets such as high fiber, quality protein and mineral composition, being called as “nutri-cereals”. Used as dual-purpose crops – food and fodder -, they make strong economic sense in mixed farming systems. Millets termed as the last standing crop in times of drought and as wonder grain that has capability to enhance nutritional security in the country.

What role can private sector agribusiness companies play in promoting millets?
Private sector agribusiness companies can take up consumer programmes such as introduction of new recipes of millets; introduction of ready to eat, ready to cook food products, expansion of marketing network, parternering with farmer producer organisations in expanding area, expansion of value addition and processing by availing various benefits under the government programmes.

What are the basic priorities Government of Karnataka is giving to the agriculture sector?
Karnataka is predominantly an agrarian state wherein nearly 69 percent of the cultivated area is under rainfed farming. The scope for increasing the irrigation potential in the state is limited in view of its geographical position as an upper riparian state. In view of comprehensive development of agriculture, many farmer-friendly programmes have been undertaken to improve the economic status of farmers by adoption of innovative technologies, thereby increasing the productivity and ascertaining sustainability in agriculture.The productivity levels of different crops in rainfed areas are very low. In this endeavour, “Krishi Bhagya” has helped farmers to harvest surplus rainwater and use it as lifesaving irrigation to sustain production and enhance yield. It has played a pivotal role in providing protective irrigation to crops during the critical stages to combat drought effectively and to obtain higher income.
Thrust has been given on “Soil Health Mission” to protect and improve the soil health. Emphasis on timely availability of quality inputs such as seeds, organic manures, fertilisers, micronutrients and plant protection chemicals to the farmers at subsidised rates have been given. To enable the farmers to carryout agricultural activities in right time and also to reduce the dependence on agricultural labour, farm machineries and agro processing units are distributed at subsidised rates. In order to emphasise judicious and efficient use of water, sprinkler and drip irrigation units will be distributed at 90 percent subsidy for two hectare under Micro Irrigation Scheme. To provide farm machineries to small and marginal farmers at a reasonable rent, Krishi Yantra Dhare Centres (Custom Hiring Centers) have been established.

We are seeing farmers throwing their commodities on the road, frequent farmer agitations and growing farmer suicides. What are the main problems do you see in this farm distress and what needs to be done? Does Karnataka have any specific programme to check this issue?
Farmers are facing problems due to drought and floods, loan, crop loss, marketing problems among many other issues. The government of Karnataka in the year 2018-19 has announced the crop loan wavier scheme. Incentive of Rs 25,000 will be given to farmers who are not defaulters to the nationalised banks. This will ensure in reducing the number of farmers’ suicide in the state. Also, awareness programmes are conducted to build the self confidence among the farmers and technical trainings are given to farmers on regular basis to improve the farm productivity. In Karnataka, farmer suicide incidences are being reported. For 290 deceased families, compensation amount of Rs 5 lakh has been paid.

Depleting water-table in the state has become a big issue, what measures is the state taking to overcome the crisis?
Contribution of the rain-fed areas in agricultural production is substantial. In Karnataka out of total cultivable area of 121.61 lakh hectares, the share of rain-fed areas is about 68 percent. Since the income of farmers of rain-fed areas is mainly dependent on rainfall, it had become difficult to obtain higher incomes in spite of investment through different interventions. For the benefit of rain-fed farmers, the state has been implementing “Krishi Bhagya” programme since 2014-15. This scheme is being implemented in all the 10 agro climatic zones of the state excluding command areas. Storing water during the period of good rainfall, utilising stored water judiciously during critical stages, is the major purpose of this programme. From 2014-15 to the end of December 2018, around 2.42 lakh farm ponds have been constructed and water collected in these farm ponds have facilitated in providing protective irrigation to an area of 12.77 lakh acres which has helped to protect crops and enhancing yield levels.

In the glamour of medical and engineering education, why should a student study agriculture sciences? How it would help him/her shape his/her career?
There is wide scope for studying agriculture sciences in the state. In addition to getting job opportunities under state government, many private firms and multinational corporations (MNCs) are offering lucrative job opportunities to agriculture graduates. Even if a rural youth who are not interested to get job or do not get job and have his own farm land, he can earn more by doing farming scientifically. There is a decline in demand for engineering sciences over the years where as the demand to study agricultural sciences is increasing.

What new initiatives Government of Karnataka is going to take into the agriculture sector?
With the view of encouraging the farmers to take-up cultivation of millets from a present area of 42,000 hectare to an area of 60,000 hectare, provision of Rs. 24 crore has been announced in the budget. Rs. 35.30 crore is earmarked for implementation of Groundnut Package. It is a major crop in the state’s most vulnerable rainfed farm areas. Inputs will be distributed to farmers at 90 percent subsidy especially in major groundnut growing districts such as Tumkuru, Chitradurga, Kolar, Chikkaballapur, Ballari and Davanagere. Emphasise is given for use of sugarcane harvesters in the sugarcane cultivation to attain profitability and sustainability and to combat the increasing labour wages and labour shortage. With a budgetary allocation of Rs 50 crore in 2018-19, Zero Budget Natural Farming will be promoted. It has resilient features to cushion against rising temperature and shrinking moisture. With an outlay of Rs 1000 crore, to mitigate the miseries of dryland farmers, a scheme “Raitha Belaku” (Income Support to Farmers through DBT) will be implemented to give direct income assistance. Under this scheme, Rs 5000 per hectare to maximum of Rs.10,000 per hectare for each farmer will be given to farmers growing rain-fed crops. This will directly be transferred to bank accounts of farmers. Besides, the state is going to give special emphasis on Commercial Crops-Development of Agriculture Technical Clusters on Israel Model, Automated Oil Mills at farm level and many more schemes.

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About Mohd Mustaquim

Mohd Mustaquim is the Editor of Agriculture Post. A postgraduate in Mass Communication and Journalism, he has been covering the rural economy and agriculture sector for more than a decade.

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One Comment on “Karnataka bets big on millets to combat climate change and providing nutrition security”

  1. This is indeed a great step and a revolutionary approach.
    I would like to thank the *NewsFoundry* Team for getting us these insights.

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