FSSAI holds brainstorming sessions on sidelines of two-day Global Millets Conference
Pankaj Dwivedi, Head of Business Development & Partnerships, nurture.farm
From a historical and cultural perspective, millets have been an essential and critical aspect of the nutritional requirements of people worldwide, especially in the subcontinent. India is the largest producer of millets (such as bajra, jowar, and ragi), accounting for 41 per cent of the global production. The global average yield of Indian farmers (1239 kg/hectare) is larger than the international average numbers. Since millets can be critical in addressing food issues and climate change globally, the government of India has promoted its production, which has increased the total output to 205 million tonnes in 2022-23.
Farmers and decision-makers worldwide have acknowledged the health benefits, nutritional value, ease of production, and usability of millet. This is why the area requires more attention in terms of research and development to ensure efficiency and goal achievement. A stellar partnership between the public and private sectors would provide a wide-range of benefits for the industry and the economy. With the United Nations declaring 2023 as the International Year of Millets, the expectations for a public-private partnership have solidified even further.
Improved funding for research
With the government already developing plans to promote research funding for millet, a collaboration between the public and private sectors would mean that the total inflow of money would increase rapidly. The presence of the private sector will put the spotlight on the aspects of foreseeing the sector’s potential, especially for young entrepreneurs and farmers. The research can focus on various things, including developing new types of millet, marketing existing crops, enhancing nutritional values, and promoting finished products made of millet crops. The research can also help to identify new markets and opportunities for millet-based products.
Technology-related innovations can significantly improve millet cultivation, irrigation, analysis, and supply. Collaboration between the public and private sectors makes it easier to analyse the impact of technology use in different areas, such as improving crop quality and output. When the decision-makers have figures and numbers for introducing tech-based solutions, the overall digital/technological adoption rate shall also improve.
Introducing improved varieties
Even though many millets are culturally associated with different states, the total number of areas under cultivation (of millets) has rapidly reduced across the country. This could be attributed to poor monetary returns, which can improve considerably by introducing high-yield, profitable varieties of millets across states. These high nutritional values of millets can be critical for Indian and overseas markets as the demand for climate-friendly, high-quality food grains has been increasing consistently.
Funding and infrastructure assistance
The partnership can ensure more entrepreneurs and innovators enter the millet sector. This further implies that the opportunities for raising production shall increase as the farmers have access to more significant funds and better infrastructure. Even though the government has already committed a fund of Rs 25 crore for the millet incubation centre, the overall scope of raising critical funds for research increases further with the improved role of the private sector.
Improving the supply chain and market development
Private companies can help develop markets for millet-based products, increasing the demand for millet and incentivising farmers to cultivate millet. This can also help to diversify the agricultural sector and improve food security. Even though a few companies are already manufacturing millet-based products, educating domestic and international consumers about the benefits is critical.
Furthermore, it is also crucial for the strategic partnership between the private and public sectors to work towards the market development of such products. One of the critical arguments in favour of millets could be their contribution towards sustainability and fighting climate change. Millets require fewer resources than traditional cereal crops, such as rice and wheat, and millets can tolerate higher temperatures, making their processing easier than other crops. Hence, there is considerable scope for market development as the end-consumers are becoming more aware of the environmental factors concerning the production of crops and consumption of food.
Post-harvest and management services
Research on millets can be extended to post-harvest and management of crops. Once again, disruptive technologies and digitalisation can be critical for improving upon these two factors. From cultivation to the storage of crops (including assessment of moisture and crop quality) can be carried out through different devices and automating the conventional and manual processes. Hence, the time and effort, which are typically relatively high in these aspects, could be reduced by introducing better tools and gadgets. However, adopting such technologies depends on proper research, which could be accelerated through a public-private partnership.
Capacity building and improved awareness
PPPs can build the capacity of public research institutions and farmers to develop and implement millet-based technologies and practices. PPPs can also help to raise awareness about the benefits of millet-based food products and advocate for policies that support millet cultivation and research. There can be reliable and viable studies on the positive impact of millet on the environment and climate change. Furthermore, there can be observational and empirical studies on various critical factors such as the nutritional value, long-term health benefits, and comparison of millets with other crops. Even though similar research has been conducted by private individuals and scholars worldwide, the overall scope of such studies shall increase with good collaboration between the public and private sectors.
The importance of millet in a world battling food crises and climate change cannot be overstated. Millets could be a significant game-changer in the future. Still, it is essential that a systematic and well-managed partnership between the public and private sectors can accelerate the expansion of these crops around the country. Research and development facilitated by the collaboration of the public and private sectors will help attain different objectives, as discussed. In addition to the mentioned points, PPPs can help transfer technology and knowledge from private companies to public research institutions, which can help improve farming practices.