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From G20 menus, Shree Anna makes its way into the New Delhi Declaration

Millets need less water and are more resistant to pests and tolerant of heat, making them the ideal grain in a world threatened by climate change and water scarcity

September 10, 2023 / 11:00 PM IST
Shree Anna had a dominating presence in the all-vegetarian dinner hosted by President Droupadi Murmu on September 9 for leaders and top dignitaries.

Shree Anna had a dominating presence in the all-vegetarian dinner hosted by President Droupadi Murmu on September 9 for leaders and top dignitaries.

Known as one of the oldest crops cultivated by mankind, the humble millet or “Shree Anna” has found a place in the New Delhi Declaration as the Group of 20 countries agreed to back efforts to strengthen research cooperation on climate-resilient grains.

“We encourage efforts to strengthen research cooperation on climate-resilient and nutritious grains such as millets, quinoa, sorghum, and other traditional crops including rice, wheat and maize. We welcome the outcomes from the G20 members' engagement in the 12th G20 Meeting of Agriculture Chief Scientists (MACS),” said the joint statement adopted by member nations on September 9.

What makes millets truly crucial at a time when the world is faced with the impact of weather vagaries and water scarcity on agriculture, is that they can grow on arid lands with minimal resources and are resilient to climate changes.

Millet’s presence in the G20 communiqué could also potentially offer India the opportunity to boost its exports by tapping newer markets. India is the largest producer and second-largest exporter of Shree Anna in the world with two varieties namely Pearl Millet (Bajra) and Sorghum (Jowar) together accounting for around 19 percent of global production in 2020, according to Commerce Ministry statistics.

Following a proposal sponsored by India, the United Nations General Assembly, at its 75th session in March 2021, declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets. Several steps have been taken by the Indian government to popularise this super grain. In fact, presenting the Union Budget for 2023, Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, announced that the Indian Institute of Millets Research, Hyderabad, will be supported as a centre of excellence for sharing research and best practices at the international level.

G20 and millets

India has left no stone unturned in its efforts to push for the presence of this humble grain in its little over 10-month long G-20 Presidency. While menus for meetings with delegates heavily featured dishes made out of Bajra and Jowar, exhibitions and stakeholder exchanges were also conducted with an aim to revive demand for millets.

For the final leg of India’s G20 Presidency underway in New Delhi, millets featured in rangolis, exhibitions as well as in feasts.

Shree Anna had a dominating presence in the all-vegetarian dinner hosted by President Droupadi Murmu on September 9 for leaders and top dignitaries from across the globe. Reportedly, the dinner menu had dishes prepared using different types of millet, namely: Foxtail millet, Little millet and Barnyard millet to give a taste of Shree Anna to the world.

Food insecurity and millets

Less water requirement and heat-resistance make millets the top choice for India as it looks to bank on sustainable crops with a global food crisis pushing up prices of traditional grains like rice and wheat.

India has time and again emphasised the importance of tackling climate change as it looks to protect its agricultural sector from the fallout of heatwaves and water scarcity.

The New Delhi Declaration adopted on September 9 stated that G20 nations will encourage investments in inclusive, sustainable and resilient agriculture and food.

It also said that the G20 countries have committed to building more sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture and food systems by accelerating innovations and investment focused on increasing agricultural productivity, reducing food loss and waste across the value chain, and improving marketing and storage.

According to an article by the World Economic Forum released on May 16, 2022, “millets offer a great alternative to rice as they don’t need much water, are pest resilient, have a very long shelf life and are profitable. Research finds millets to be heat tolerant, making them a sensible crop choice in a changing climate.”

The article further said, millet cropping in India had declined in recent decades. “For instance, bajra (Pearl millet) was grown on 2,17,000 hectares in Punjab in the 1950s, but was reduced to a mere 500 hectares in 2020. But cultivation is now picking up again as the state’s rice farmers grow millets,” it added.

Despite the COVID Pandemic, millets’ exports from India continued their upward trend during 2021-22, attaining an all-time high of $62.95 million for the first time in the history of its export, according to a statement from the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA).

Global food prices have been on the rise, with countries looking to prioritise local concerns. The world has been grappling with a surge in the price of essential commodities, with Russia blocking Ukraine from shipping grain to the world. India’s ban on export of non-basmati white rice exports also set off fears of lower supply of rice from the world's largest producer.

In fact, the G20 has called for the immediate revival of the Black Sea grain initiative to ensure that developing and least developed countries, particularly those in Africa, do not suffer.

"In this context, emphasising the importance of sustaining food and energy security, we called for the cessation of military destruction or other attacks on relevant infrastructure," the Leaders' Declaration said.

Given that a moderation in global food prices is expected to take its own sweet time, larger acceptance of millet in the world’s food chain could be key to not only lowering a country’s import dependence on less sustainable traditional grains, but to also address the larger and more universal goal of combatting climate change.

Adrija Chatterjee is an Assistant Editor at Moneycontrol. She has been tracking and reporting on finance and trade ministries for over eight years.
first published: Sep 10, 2023 08:54 pm

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