Women are playing a vital role in millet push
Indian women women are showing the way forward on nutrition and food security, for the nation and the world
Experiences from India’s strong push on promoting millets are showing that women have a fundamental role in driving the millet value chain through strong engagements at each step of the journey, from farm to fork. The conversation around millets is no longer limited to the promotion of the traditional grain that is loaded with nutrition, easy to grow, needs less water, and is resilient to extreme weather, but has moved to creating an ecosystem and bringing together a range of stakeholders. My interactions with government officials, institutions, and communities have been humbling, revealing the rich and contextual experience that India has to offer to the rest of the world and the Global South, on how the journey of mainstreaming millets is also a journey of empowering the community, especially women, while creating long-term food security.
India marked 2018 as the National Year of Millets to increase the production of nutrient-rich grain. Today, India is the largest producer of millets in the world. The fact that they are grown by small and marginal farmers in India and other parts of the world makes them critical for food and nutritional security. Steeped in tradition and history, millets are climate resilient and packed with nutrition. According to the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India, millets contain 7-12% protein, 2-5% fat, 65-75% carbohydrates, and 15-20% dietary fibre. Their share in crop area and household consumption has gone down over the years. The government is focusing on production, processing, packaging, marketing, and consumption. This end-to-end approach is yielding exceptional stories of increasing production, innovation around production, profitability, resilience, and economic security.
The United Nations World Food Programme in India has been working with the Odisha Millet Mission (OMM) to assess and document key achievements. The stories gathered through the exercise showcase how women are leading in millet production, processing and value addition, consumption promotion, creating sustainable solutions, and gender inclusion. Women self-help groups, collectives, and micro enterprises are creating a resilient and food-secure future with millets at the centre of the transformation. Take the story of Badal Sahoo, 29, who has not only taken to millet farming but is also a community resource person at Barakhandia in Ganjam. Her story reflects the resilience of the grain that she champions. The fruits of the harvest that these women have planted are reaching far and beyond the fields of Odisha. The focus of OMM on gender and inclusion is remarkable, especially in tribal populations.
Some of the recommendations that emerged from the programme include innovation in the farming and processing of millets, specifically focusing on women for reducing the drudgery involved; strengthening participation of women in the farmer producer organisations and their engagement as community resource persons; training targeted towards the whole community — men, boys, girls, and women — and not just women to help break gender stereotypes; training for self help groups on packaging and marketing of products; creating capacity on fostering appropriate storage practices and value-added products, etc; and a strong emphasis on “learning by doing”.
Together, these women are showing the way forward on nutrition and food security, for India and the world.
Elisabeth Faure is representative and country director, UN World Food Programme in India The views expressed are personal