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India’s Millet Vision & Present

India’s Millet Vision & Present

Millets have been an integral part of our diet for centuries. In addition to a plethora of health benefits, millets are also good for the environment with low water & 8input requirement. 

With the aim to create awareness and increase production & consumption of millets, United Nations, at the behest of the Government of India, declared 2023 the International Year Millets. 

Millets are small-grained, annual, warm-weather cereals belonging to the grass family. Jowar (Sorghum), Bajra (Pearl Millet) and Ragi (Finger millet) are the important millets cultivated in India. Small Millets such as Proso (Cheena), Kodo (Kodra, Arikelu), Fox tail (Kangni/Korra), Barnyard (Varai, Sawa), Little millet (Kutki) are also grown in India. 

This analytical article is dedicated to study the sustainability aspect of millets in comparison with other food crops and penetration of millets in the Indian economy for a more sustainable food security programme.


Historically, millets are a class of food crops termed as “poor man’s food”. Their relevance in earlier societies in comparison with crops such as rice and wheat, was merely a function of social class. Rice and wheat were expensive and attributed as commodities meant for elite families while millets were coarse grains- unrefined and meant for peasant stomachs. 

Growing awareness of the health benefits of millets (it being rich in antioxidants, among others) caused a slow but steady shift of millet consumption in the urban demographic. Scientifically, millets have been shown to be a more sustainable crop compared to their popular counterparts rice and wheat, and the Indian government, through various schemes have now tried to tap into this trend to incentivise farmers to cultivate more millets and for the public to consume more millets.

As of 2021-22, India saw 15.48 million hectares of land under millet cultivation, from 12.29 million hectares in 2013-14. Data indicates that bajra is currently the leader in terms of all three factors under consideration: area, yield and production. 


This article uses factors including soil types, yield, production and water requirements for various types of millets, in comparison to crops such as rice and wheat. Through this comparison, the researchers aim to depict the sustainability aspect associated with millets and hence, suggest policy recommendations to incorporate the same in food policy programmes at a larger scale.

Data was used from the Agricultural Census, as well as several government reports on the state and national levels with regard to millet cultivation in India. External scientific studies have been cited to support this data as well.

Soil Study

Millets can be cultivated on a variety of soils ranging from rich, medium loam to poor shallow soils and having normal pH level between 7.5-8.0. 

The best soils are medium soils (sandy/silty clay loam and clay loam), red, loamy and shallow (25-50 cm deep) soils, even growing on skeletal soils that are less than 15 cm deep with good drainage. 

The kodo millet is a crop that can be grown in gravelly and stony soils as well. Medium to fine tilth is imperative for proper germination and crop establishment.

Source: Burning Compass

A study of soils shows that millets can be best grown in the states of Kerala and Karnataka in the south, as well as some parts of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. In the east, Odisha is a prime producer, while in the north-eastern parts of India, millets can be cultivated in parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Nagaland. In the west, Maharashtra is also an eligible state. These states have belts with red loamy soils, which is suitable for millet agriculture. Areas with skeletal soil such as Madhya Pradesh and parts of Ladakh also fall in this category.

Irrigation and Water Requirements

When compared to commercially promoted crops such as rice and wheat, millets require no irrigation. Their rainfall requirement is about 25% of that of their popular counterparts.

Data published by the Millet Network of India and the FAO indicate that ragi, bajra and sorghum (jowar) all require less than 500 mm of annual rainfall. 

Wheat requires a little over 500 mm, while rice requires around 1250 mm, which is more than double the requirement of that of their coarse grain alternatives. 

Sugarcane is an outlier in this aspect, needing more than four times the average rainfall required for millets, at over 2000 mm annually.

Source: Author’s Own Calculations

When grown in the traditional way, millets are mostly or completely pest-free crops, both during its growth and storage phases. The Foxtail millet is an example of a completely pest-free crop. 

The pest-resistant nature of these crops can be attributed to their tough seed coats, which act as a deterrent against insect attacks. 

Millet cultivation does not require the use of synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and insecticides, implying an organic process of agriculture and a healthier foodgrain for consumers.

Increase in organic farming practices has shown increased profits for farmers as consumers are generally willing to pay more for organic products (around 22-35% more in some cases). The decreased use of pesticides and fertilisers means a lesser likelihood of occurrences of biomagnification of said products in humans. Millets are oftentimes used as substitutes for animal feed without any noticeable decrease in performance in the animal’s growth, which can also end up travelling up the food chain and accumulating in human bodies along with direct consumption of millets.

Millet Statistics

  • Area

The following table represents the area under millet cultivation (in lakh hectares) in India across a five year period for four kinds of crops.

Table 1: Area of Production of Millets across a Five-Year Period
Chart 1: Area of Production of Millets across a Five-Year Period

As of the year 2021-22, bajra and jowar are the two leading millets in terms of area of production, with bajra at 67.03 lakh ha and jowar at 38.08 lakh ha. It must be noted, however, is that this is a decline from 2020-21, when bajra was grown across 76.52 lakh ha, a five-year maximum, while jowar was grown across 43.78 lak ha. Across the period of study, the four crops have maintained their rankings in terms of area of production, with fluctuations not causing any major changes in their relevance.

  • Production

The following table shows production or the total harvest, measured in terms of tonnes per hectare

Table 2: Production of Millets across a Five-Year Period
Chart 2: Production of Millets across a Five-Year Period

The same order of rankings continue for the production aspect of millets as well. For the entire period of study, bajra has been a clear leader, and in 2021-22, 96.24 lakh tonnes of bajra was produced in India, which is double the amount of the crop in second place- jowar, at 48.12 lakh tonnes in the same year. From the previous year, the production of jowar has remained the same, that of bajra and ragi have decreased, while the production of small millets have seen a slight increase. 

Bajra and ragi production peaked in 2021-22, at 108.63 lakh tonnes and 19.98 lakh tonnes respectively, while jowar has been at a five-year high since 2021. 

  • Yield

The following table depicts yield, or per area harvest, measured in terms of kilograms per hectare (kg/ha).

Table 3: Yield of Millets across a Five-Year Period
Chart 3: Yield of Millets across a Five-Year Period

The leader in terms of yield of millets is bajra , with a yield of 1401 kg/ha as of 2021-22. However, ragi had been the leader for four years before that, and this change in rankings could be attributed to a decline in its yield by over 300 kg/ha in the last year of study. 

Jowar has seen a roughly increasing trend in terms of its yield. Small millets have the least yield in the group.

  • State-Wise Statistics
  1. Jowar – As of 2021-22, Maharashtra is the leader in terms of area under cultivation and production, at 16.49 lakh ha and 17.47 lakh tonnes respectively. However, Andhra Pradesh is the state with the most yield, sitting at 3166 kg/ha in the same year.
  1. BajraRajasthan is the prime producer of bajra in the country, with 37.36 lakh ha for cultivation of the crop and 37.51 lakh tonnes produced as of 2021-22. Tamil Nadu, however, has shown the maximum yield of bajra nationally, at 2616 kg/ha, overtaking the 2020-21 leader, Haryana
  1. Ragi – As of 2021-22, Karnataka clearly has the largest area of production for ragi in India compared to other states: a measure of 8.49 lakh ha, whereas other states cultivate ragi in less than 1 lakh ha. It also leads in terms of production, at 11.33 lakh tonnes. The state with the maximum yield, however, is is yet again Tamil Nadu, recording 2972 kg/ha in the same year.

Value addition and product portfolio diversification

Millets are not just the foodgrains of and for the future because of the fact that they are comparatively more sustainable and a healthier option compared to its traditional counterparts, they can also have many other forms that can be consumed by the masses as shown by the Kolli Hills AgroBiodiversity Conservers Federation based in Kolli Hills, Tamil Nadu.

They are a social enterprise supported by the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation composed of SHGs, farmers interest groups and millet farmers, which later also expanded into the Kolli Hills Agrobioresource company limited with the intention of diversifying and commercializing millets produced in the region. 

They follow the 4C ideology:

  1. Conservation
  2. Cultivation
  3. Commercialisation 
  4. Consumption, of the region’s local produce. 

With a wide portfolio of 11 different types of millet products, ranging from different kinds of flours to even Ragi malt, all of which are produced by the 900 – odd members (where around 45% are women) and with the intention of not just bringing economic profit but also ensuring community building and also promotion of local produce on a national as well as international level as well. 

The fact that millets can be grown on a variety of soils with minimal rainfall requirements indicates that they are sustainable crops. This sustainability feature can also be extended to certain other aspects.

Many  millets are quite resilient when it comes to diseases and pests. Hence they are not as dependent on pesticides to survive in harsh conditions. This, coupled with their hardy nature can lead to promoting an increase in the production of millets and also incentivising farmers to devise organic ways of producing them. 

Millets are an ideal product from an economic perspective of market at equilibrium. At the equilibrium, they benefit both, to consumers as healthy food and to producers that is, farmers, by producing sustainable and cost-efficient crop. Hence India’s food policy should include and promote more variety of millets for daily consumption. 

Aarya Pillai

Aarya Pillai is a research intern with Tatvita Analysts pursuing her graduation in Economics from Gokhale Institute, Pune. She has keen interest in researching on international relations and food security as a policy matter.

Nishad Govekar

Nishad Govekar is pursuing his graduation in Economics from Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics. He has keen interest in share market.

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