Who says farmers are always toiling away in the fields and do not have fun? I had a chance to meet Eshwarappa Siddappa Banakar, from Hireyadachi in Haveri district of Karnataka at the Millet Mela last weekend. The fair was jointly organised by the National Agricultural Innovation Project, University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, Pristine Organics and Sahaja Organics. Creativity was at its best display as they put their act together to promote the use of millets in daily food habits.

Tastefully decorated stage adorned by millets

Eshwarappa had brought with him atleast two dozen varieties of millets – jowar, ragi,sajje and other medicinal plants. He adorned a beautiful cap made out of millets and had factual stories to share about the vital need to focus on alternatives to cash crops such as rice & wheat, which were popularized post The Green Revolution in India. In the conventional argument of pro-mass production drive we chose to drive the farming community to focus only on the high yielding varieties. This meant that we did not get a closer look at the local geographical conditions and choose crops which suited the micro-climate of that region. Instead, wesupplemented the soil with fertilizers and pesticides and would invest millions of dollars to build large dams which would bring in water for irrigation. Cash crops are highly water consumptive which has resulted in a variety of challenges in agriculture.

Millets, which were the traditional crops across the country have lost the vogue in being the mainstream food source. As per the Millets Network of India, between 1956 and 1961, millets were cultivated on 36.2 million hectares in the country. This came down to 21.31 million hectares during 2001-06.

Some of the millets on display at the fair were navane (foxtail millet), saave (little millet), arka (kodo millet), baragu (barnyard millet), koralu(proso millet), ragi (finer millet), sajje (pearl millet) & jowar. One also got to meet some of the enterprises which have sprung to promote millet based products. Scores of ragi based food -ragi malt / biscuits / roti / chocolates and even cereal. Pristine organics has a store for millet based ready to eat food which have been grown organically. The water footprint of a millet is very low and they can be grown even in drought prone areas nor do they need a huge bout of fertilizers and pesticides.

As the Acara challenge continues, it is our endeavor to bring in more ideas on food security for India. In order to understand the importance of bio-diversity in seed varieties and what that means for our food security, watch this TED video by Cary Fowler who is the brain behind the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the global seed bank within Norway where efforts are on to procure every seed variety there is in the world and eventually be a savior to this extraordinary treasure that humanity has seen over millions of years.