Millet’s addition will diversify our food basket – Dr. Richa Jaiswal, Senior Dietitian, AIIMS

2023 has been declared as the ‘International Year of Millets’ by the United Nations, after a proposal from the Government of India in 2019. To raise awareness on millets, Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with fellow parliamentarians across party lines, on December 20, enjoyed a sumptuous millets-based lunch. The menu included Bajra soup, Ragi dosa and roti, Foxtail millet Bisibelebath and Joladha roti among other items.

Meanwhile, Ragi halwa, Jowar halwa and Bajra kheer were three of the offerings. While speaking to The Quotes, Dr. Richa Jaiswal, Senior Dietitian, AIIMS congratulated the Government of India on taking up the emergency issues and addressing nutritional and food security on a priority basis.

“Announcing 2023 as the International Year of Millet is a medium to encourage the entire country to diversify its food basket. The discussion to promote diversity is essential as each and every grain, every food item contains one form of nutrient or the other, which may be lacking in other sources of food consumption,” said Dr. Jaiswal.

She further claimed that once we celebrate something as a ritual, or as is the case – take up a marked year, it spreads the message across the nation – to take it up as a priority to include healthy, nutrient rich food sources in one’s routine diet.

The term millet is often used to describe small-grained cereals like sorghum (jowar), pearl millet (bajra), foxtail millet (kangni/Italian millet), barnyard millet (sawa/sanwa/ jhangora) and brown top millet. The prominent dietitian informed that the present government has a clear focus on putting everything on preventive mode by way of alternative medicines, etc. Nutrition is a major focus area for them.

“They are focusing on millet, as it’s an easy crop to grow. It takes less time to produce vis-a-vis cereals. Major benefits of growing millet as a crop, is that it can be grown in drought-gripped areas as well. This is due to the crop’s minimal requirement of water. Central India, critically, has several pockets of drought impacted areas,” adds Dr. Jaiswal.

According to Agriculture Ministry data, millets are mainly a kharif crop. During 2018-19, three millet crops — bajra (3.67%), jowar (2.13%), and ragi (0.48%) — accounted for about 7 per cent of the gross cropped area in the country, Agriculture Ministry data confirms. Dr. Jaiswal feels promoting millets will help in retention of surplus of cereals*, critical from our national food security point-of-view.

“Our country’s population is growing in numbers. Thus, food security is essential, in addition to nutritional security. Millets are cereals, but smaller in size and their paddy too, is small. Many millet varieties are rich in iron as well as being a good source of fibre. Fibre helps in preventing NCD and maintains the gut flora,” added Dr. Jaiswal.

She also informed that the inclusion of iron-rich food in our diet would not necessitate fortification of cereals. “Consumption of fortification-less millet is cheaper, easier to grow and can be made easily available in different parts of our country. Millet, hence, should definitely be part of our agricultural structure, adding to the diversity of our food basket. Everyone should be encouraged to include millet-based food as a part of their regular diet,” concluded Dr. Jaiswal. 

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