In last year's budget speech, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman spoke about the government's plan to focus on millet -- from enhancing production to branding and promoting millet consumption both domestically and globally, to post-harvest value addition. In keeping with this, the government also proposed to the UN that 2023 be declared the international year of millets -- a proposal that has been accepted.
CNBC-TV18's Santia Gora reports that millet farmers in Maharashtra are banking on the government's intent for more support in budget 2023.
27-year-old Gulab Khutade and her husband Dhavlu Khutade own and farm 7 acres of land in Vinval village in Maharashtra’s Palghar region. Of these 7 acres, 1.5 acres is earmarked for finger millets or ragi. Last year, their field yielded 2.5 quintals of ragi -- almost double the average. But the millet farmers in the area mainly use ragi for personal consumption.
However, the government's stated intent of bolstering ragi production and consumption has given the couple hope.
Gulab Khutade, a Ragi farmer said, “We have 7 acres of land. We sow paddy and ragi n our fields. If government help us, we will sow more ragi.”
Khutade's neighbour Sunita Murgha, who also grows finger millet on a portion of her land, says she is willing to increase land allocation to this crop if better infrastructure is provided.
Murgha said, “I have 6-acre land but have to depend on rain. If the government will help us with irrigation water, our ragi produce will become better and we will grow more ragi.”
India was the highest producer of millet in 2020 and produced 41 percent of the world's millets.
In 2020-21, it produced 17.96 million tonnes of millet, and it's this number the government wants to increase.
The government has come up with a 5-year plan that spans various ministries and its foreign embassies and missions. Millet exports also account for just one percent of total millet production currently. To enhance this, the government plans to organise millet promotional activities in multiple countries like Australia, South Africa, Japan, Indonesia and Belgium.
But farmers and experts say a lot more will have to be done to incentivise millet sowing and budget 2023 could be a strong starting point for this.
Pushan Sharma, Director of research at Crisil said, “Farmers' annual income is low. Stability in income will encourage them. So if we have more procurement and enhanced distribution the PDS scheme for millets, that can encourage millet farming.”
Sanjay Patil, Chief thematic executive of agrobiodiversity at BAIF Development Research Foundation said, “Measures to enhance yields are the need of the hour and the list of focus areas include...millet diversity and developing cultivation practices for better yields.”
The government has also approved a production linked incentive scheme for millet-based products and expects this to increase consumption beyond subsistence farming.
The government has kicked off the promotion and branding leg of its millet popularisation plan from the beginning of this year. Different ministries and states have been allocated a specific month to conduct various activities promoting millets. These ministries and states will organise fairs and exhibitions as part of this exercise.
The government is also roping in the media, startups and the hotel industry to popularise millet consumption. And as per last year's budget announcement, pre and post-harvest value addition of millets will be on the government's priority list this year.