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Scaling up small millet production and consumption in India

February 18, 2019

A lack of dietary diversity has contributed to malnutrition and the prevalence of obesity-related diseases such as diabetes in many South Asian countries, including India. Small millets, a gluten-free “superfood” that is also climate resilient, could offer solutions. However, compared to crops such as rice, the production and consumption of small millets is low, mainly due to a weak supply chain, poor consumer awareness, poor yields, inadequate or inefficient processing facilities, and policy neglect.

The manual processing of small millets requires a lot of tedious labour and has contributed to the fast decline in their consumption. Two previous IDRC-supported projects developed standardized small millet processing machines for different market sizes and products. Translating these innovations into sustained change required overcoming failings in the value chain and promoting supportive government policies. Technologies, market supports, and policy tools were developed to bring back the neglected crop in countries across South Asia and Africa.

More efficient and accessible small millet dehulling and processing equipment

The project developed more efficient and user-friendly equipment for de-hulling and processing small millets, which has increased production and reduced women’s drudgery. Two business models significantly increased equipment manufacturers’ capacity to produce and sell more dehulling machines, paving the way for the development of decentralized small millet processing infrastructure in eastern and central India.

S. Padma Devi, the owner of Padmas Sree Foods, measures, weighs, and packages her ready-to-cook product.

A processing unit that started supplying seeds to farmers was established by four farmer producer organizations (FPOs). This has shortened the value chain between FPOs and consumer groups, built business linkages, and reduced consumer prices, resulting in almost CA$89,000 worth of transactions throughout the course of the project.

Expanding the market for small millets

The health benefits of consuming small millets was promoted to more than 200,000 consumers via mobile text messages, community radio programs at 34 radio stations, short films that featured recipes, awareness posters, and even a music album of motivational songs.

Women’s groups and other small enterprises are producing and selling ready-to-eat millet products that consumers want, and public acceptance of foods made with small millets is increasing.

A. Abida Barvin and her husband A. Shahul Hameed, the owners of Century Millet Foods.

Over the course of the project, 72,490 people, mostly women, farmers, and schoolchildren, were educated about the health benefits of small millets. Social workers from 85 locations were also educated and the capacity of 66 food enterprises, 152 pushcart millet porridge vendors, four FPOs, and 15 non-governmental organizations was increased to expand the market for ready-to-eat small millet products.

Supportive policies to strengthen the value chain

The project has boosted awareness of the importance and benefits of small millets not only among consumers and producers, but also policymakers, who now have the evidence to increase awareness and the availability and consumption of small millets.

Small millets are being introduced through public food programs in India and there are opportunities to scale up this model across the country, in other South Asian countries (Nepal, Sri Lanka), and in Africa (Kenya, Malawi, Zimbabwe).

Policy briefs were developed to inform decisions related to establishing decentralized processing infrastructure, establishing cottage industries in the millet sector, and addressing supply chain constraints. There would be value in expanding the public policy focus to include the availability of processing units, marketing small millets, manufacturing value-added products, and increasing consumer demand. Project partners are also exploring the possibility of applying the lessons learned from this project to other neglected pulses and oilseeds.

The Canadian International Food Security Research Fund is jointly funded by IDRC and Global Affairs Canada.

Learn more about this project and its outcomes.