The theme for UN’s World Food Day in 2023 has a powerful statement: ‘Water is life, water is food’. It is a call to action by the FAO, urging the global community to address the pressing issue of water consumption on a worldwide scale. Water is a vital component of life. Freshwater availability per person has declined by 20 per cent in recent decades.

The World Wildlife Fund indicates that agriculture consumes approximately 70 per cent of freshwater, with industrial and household uses accounting for 20 and 10 per cent, respectively. Moreover, projections made by the International Water Management Institute indicate a looming increase of around 14 per cent in global agricultural water withdrawal for irrigation by 2030.

Amidst these challenges, millet emerges as a beacon of hope due to its exceptional water efficiency, requiring only 250-300 millimetres of water throughout its growth cycle, in contrast to the substantial demands of rice (800-2,500 millimetres) and wheat (450-750 millimetres). These metrics demand immediate efforts towards sustainable water management in agriculture and the promise of millet in addressing future water challenges.

The July 2023 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report (by UNICEF) delivers a stark message: 783 million people worldwide currently suffer from hunger.

In addition, the Global Hunger Index ranked India 107th out of 121 countries, revealing the disheartening position of the country in addressing hunger and malnutrition.

Nutritional value

In light of this, millet’s accessibility, affordability and adaptability make it an excellent choice to achieve the UN’s overarching theme of “leave no one behind” and the promotion of sustainable agriculture, ending hunger, ensuring food security, and improving nutrition, particularly among rural populations in low- and middle-income countries in Asia and Africa.

Millets as “nutri-cereals” with exceptional nutritional value offer a dual advantage by not only aiding in water conservation but also standing out as nutritional powerhouses, boasting high levels of protein, fibre, minerals, iron, and calcium, making them a vital resource in addressing nutritional challenges.

However, the significance of millets has been overlooked in Indian agriculture; the Green Revolution of the 1960s brought about a significant increase in wheat and rice production, inadvertently diminishing the cultivation of millets.

To counter this, the government introduced initiatives like the National Food Security Mission, Integrated Cereal Development Programmes, and the Initiative for Nutritional Security through Intensive Millet Production. Consequently, these efforts bore fruit, with millet production rising from 14.52 million tonnes in 2015-16 to 17.96 million tonnes in 2020-21.The GST Council proposed new tax rates for millets. Flour containing at least 70 per cent millets shall bear 0 per cent GST when sold in bulk and a nominal 5 per cent GST when pre-packaged and labelled. India has proclaimed 2023 as the “Year of Millets” at the UN General Assembly, signalling its commitment to promotion of millets.

Valiachi is a Research Assistant in an ICSSR project; Abinaya is a Research Scholar at Alagappa University, Karaikudi