August 18, 2009
Honourable Chief Ministergaru
On the eve of the participation of your government in the Meeting of the Agricultural Ministers of India, the Millet Network of India urges you to take a visionary position, a position that will avoid temporary knee jerk reactions to a crisis situation but post permanent sign posts to a stable, secure an aam aadmi friendly food security system for the country.
At this critical juncture in India where a new National Food Security Act is being drafted in the background of an unprecedented drought and looming climate change crisis there is an urgent need for a paradigm shift in shaping the food and farming futures of this country. If we fail now, the coming decades will find us desolate for food and enervated in farming.
Andhra Pradesh as a leading agrarian state in the country must take urgent steps to draw up the new sign posts for food and farming future of the country. These new signposts must emerge as a definite shift from a total dependence on irrigation based farming systems to a renewal of the non irrigated rainfed indigenous farming systems which, wherever they continue to be practiced, have held the poorer farming communities in good stead, rescuing them from hunger and suicides.
These rainfed, farming systems have multiple advantages in relation to climate change crisis:
SPECIFIC DEMANDS FOR A P GOVERNMENT
- They automatically rescue agriculture from being water dependent. As water grows scarcer and scarcer in the years of climate change, these farming systems put us on an excellent state of readiness.
- Since these farming systems have a vigorous agro biodiversity embedded in them which can contribute to the carbon capture and other such carbon sequestration processes, they become the first defence against climate change crisis.
- In particular we recommend strongly a new targeted fillip to millet based biodiverse cropping systems. This not only liberates farming from water intensive cropping such as rice and wheat that need nearly six million litres of water for one acre of cultivation.
- Moreover millet based farming systems have the potential to make agriculture non chemical based, resulting in further climate change compliant systems, even while offering healthier, more nutritious food and fodder, livelihood and ecological security. This is also a farming system that is by nature community controlled and fed by community knowledge systems.
- Some of the ready incentives that can be offered to millet rainfed farmers are: climate change bonus, biodiversity bonus, ecological bonus. By saving on the current subsidies on chemical fertilizers and power these bonuses can be realized. Further this can also rescue farmers from their current desperate reliance on high external input agriculture and move them to low input organic and biodiverse farming thereby finding a lasting solution for the current agrarian crisis and farmer suicides.
- In order to further incentivise this farming system a new policy should emerge by putting millets into PDS and other government food programmes such as ICDS, Food For Work and School Meals. The new millet based PDS must also ensure that there is local community level procurement, storage and distribution which in turn enable us to save huge food miles that go into transporting food from the area of production to the area of consumption.
- A new and urgent focus on watersheds which need to move away from current watershed+ to a Green Water based watershed programme which restrains drawing of groundwater at the end of watershed but emphasizes on soil moisture enhancement and non irrigated farming system.
In order to fortify the Indian food system and liberate it from the present stigma of being listed as the most malnourished nation, [which occupies 128th position in the global Human Development Index in terms of nutrition status of its citizens which fall below that of the sub Saharan Africa], please bring back millets into the people’s diet of this country.
DEMAND I: Persuade the Government of India to provide millets high priority in the National Food Security Act
DEMAND II: Put millets into public food systems of A P
- Make the Government of India understand that millets are extremely crucial to tackle food and farming crisis in an era of climate change that warms up the globe and reduces water availability to cropping.
- Convince the GOI that millet farming systems offer not only food security but also multiple securities such a fodder security, health and nutritional security, water security, livelihood security and ecological security. Thus these should be the preferred crops while designing the nation’s food security.
- Persuade the GOI to allocate at least 40% of its food security budget to millet based farming and food systems that will use millets as their major food component.
Such steps will also create a huge market for millet farmers thereby giving them a big incentive to cultivate millets in more farm lands.
- Put millets into the PDS system in phases. Start with 5 kgs out of the present quota of 25 kgs in the year 2010 and gradually increase it to at least 50% by the year 2020.
- Implement this in the millet growing districts of AP in the first phase between 2010-2020 and by 2050 plan to spread this system to all parts of the state.
- Introduce millet meals twice a week in the ICDS, school mid day meals, welfare hostels and such other schemes of the government. This will provide highly nutritious meals for the young children thereby ensuring their healthy growth into adulthood. It will also help young children appreciate the taste and value of millets from an early age and develop them into millet citizens of AP.
DEMAND III: Recognise millets as Climate Change Compliant Crops and promote
their cultivation and consumption
Experts warn us that Climate Change will result in the following crises:
Millets are able to respond to each of these in their own unique fashion.
- Higher Heat, drought
- Lower rainfall, water crisis
- High malnutrition
In the context of climate change rice and wheat will become completely unviable. With the projected increase of 2 degree Celsius in temperature in near future, wheat will disappear from the farming scene. Rice which needs standing water for its cultivation, becomes one of the most dangerous emitters of methane, a green house gas. Thus both wheat and rice will lose their importance in the food basket of the country. Thus millets will be the saviour or our food and farming systems
- Millets are intrinsically drought resistant crops and can withstand higher heat regimes.
- They also can survive under far less rainfall regime than many other crops such as rice, sugarcane etc. Most millets, especially minor millets can grow without irrigation, purely under rainfall.
- Each one of the millets, particularly minor millets such as sorghum [Jonna], Pearl millet [Sajja], Foxtail millet [Korra], Finger millet [Ragi], Little millet [Saama] are three to five times more nutritious than rice.
- Most of all most of the traditional millet cropping systems are inherently biodiverse. They incorporate millet crops with legumes and oilseeds. Many of these crops can fix carbon into the soils thereby becoming agents of carbon
Recognising and acknowledging all these unique qualities of millets, the Government must:
1. Announce a series of incentives to dryland farmers that would include:
2. Together these should offer a total incentive of at least Rs.5000/ha for minor millet farmers and Rs.2000/ha for major millet farmers. The total area in AP under minor millet farming is about 35000 hectares. At Rs.5000/ha incentive, this adds up to a total incentive of Rs.17.5 crore per annum. With about 4.2 lakh ha under major millets, the incentive @Rs.2000/ha would add up to about Rs.84 crores per annum. The total outlay of Rs.105 crores that will cost the exchequer on this account would be less than the money the government is ready to subsidise ten villages in the state under the new Cooperartive Farming policy. Therefore the pro farmer government of AP must embrace the millet incentives with both hands since this serves the interest of the poorest segment of farmers in the most impoverished districts in AP and will wipe out considerable distress. Over the next ten years, the allocation for this must reach Rs.500 crores/annum, which is after all a small fragment in the budget of a state that has a total outlay of Rs.100,000 crores.
- Biodiversity bonus,
- Water conservation bonus,
- Climate change bonus.
Besides giving a great fillip to millet cultivation, this incentive will also create an astounding 22.5 million person days of employment in the most disadvantaged parts of the state. Under NREGA, creation of the same number of employment days would cost 225 crore rupees. Thus it can be clearly seen that investment on millet lands which apart from creating permanent investment for the poor, also will create at half the cost of NREGA, double the number of employment and simultaneously produce nearly 450,000 tonnes of foodgrains [millets, pulses and oilseeds] and three times the nutrition of a similar amount of rice.
DEMAND IV: Implement Millet Based NREGA
Most of the very poor small and marginal farmers in AP as well as India happen to inhabit the dryland areas. Therefore the government must fund their farming operations [including ploughing, weeding and harvesting] under the NREGA. Through such a policy decision, the NREGA will also be less burdened from having to create “durable assets” day after day, month after month and year after year. Instead the NREGA money could be safely invested in the millet farming of the poor which will continue to safeguard their fragile assets for them. Moreover it will also help them produce the most nutritious cereals that defy the climate change crisis.
DEMAND V: Convert Cultivable Fallows into millet farms
Andhra Pradesh has nearly 33 million hectares of land under cultivable wastes and current fallows. This indicates that the poor who are the majority owners of these lands are not able to bring them under plough. If the government works determinedly and helps the farmers to cultivate these lands and farm millets, the state will be able to produce a minimum of 25 million tonnes of millets, three million tonnes of pulses and fodder that can feed an astounding 25 million heads of cattle. This is a huge opportunity. Such a determined effort will help the state to stay fighting fit to tackle drought and climate change and wipe them off the face of AP.
This might need an investment of about Rs.35,000 crore over a period of five years with an annual investment of approximately 6000 crores. This can be done by drawing watershed, rural development, DRDA, DPAP and NREGA funds. To create a permanently food secure state, this is not a big price to pay.
DEMAND VI: Start a massive educational and promotional programme on millets
In spite of this huge array of fascinating qualities that millets have, they are condemned to live with the stigma of being called Coarse Grains, Poor Man’s Food etc. Therefore it is high time that the government takes the lead to present millets in a favourabile light which they richly deserve.
To begin with millets must be called Nutricereals and not Coarse Grains. The Millet Network of India [MINI] actually calls them Miracle Grains. In Telugu and Kannada the millets have been renamed Adbhuta Dhanyalu and Pavada Dhanyagalu. This is the correct way of describing millets. While over the last decade or so millets have become a favourite food of the elites, the poor still attach a stigma to it. In order to erase this stigma the government along with civil society groups and the media houses must start a massive educational programme describing the extraordinary nutritional qualities. In schools these qualities of millets must be taught so that from an young age, children start getting attracted towards millets as food.
The new opportunities offered by climate change, drought and the National Food Security Act must be fully seized by the Government of Andhra Pradesh to rejuvenate food and farming systems as well as livelihoods in the dryland areas of the state by offering a new pride of place for millet based farming systems. The allocation for this effort can change the face of the map of AP from being called the farmer suicide belt of the country and redeem itself as the nutrition capital of India. This might bring down the GDP of the state by a couple of notches but surely will enhance the Gross Domestic Wellbeing of the states farming population by leaps and bounds. It will also make Andhra Pradesh the home of ecological agriculture.
On behalf of Millet Network of India