'Millet cultivation can save farmers fighting drought'

BHUBANESWAR: Till not too long ago, Odisha farmers used to take up millet farming. But after Green Revolution, the government laid emphasis on paddy, wheat and other crops. Today, millet cultivation is virtually facing extinction.

Experts, including virologist and agriculture scientist Dr Balaram Sahu, said crops like finger millet (mandia), great millet (juara), spiked millet (bajra), Italian millet (kangu), kodo millet (kodua), barnyard millet (khira) and little millet (suan) are more nutritious. These crops are also resilient to climate change, he added.

"These crops could be cultivated in low irrigated and even non-irrigated areas as it needs very little water for its production. It can be raised in upland areas of tribal hilly zones of the state. It doesnt need synthetic fertilizers or pesticide. So a farmer can grow these crops without investing huge money like paddy, cotton and other cash crops," he said.

Das said the millets, which are highly nutritious, have several health benefits, such as its ability to protect one from diabetes, improves digestive system, reduces cancer risk and strengthen immune system. It has also medicinal values which helps human body, he added.

Nirman, an NGO, which has been promoting the production of millets in the state, said these crops have several positive points which need to be included in the food menu. "But it is not happening due to the lack of governments interest to promote these crops or the farmers lack of interest to readopt this," said Nirman chief Prashant Mohanty.

Another expert professor Radhamohan said cultivation area of such farming has declined to 63% between 1978 and 2013. If efforts are taken for the revival of this farming, then the prevailing agrarian crisis as well as the issue of food scarcity would be resolved, said experts.

Ranjita Behera, a millet grower of Biringia under Tumudibandha in Kalahandi district, said she has started harvesting millets like mandia,janha, kandula (pulse) and kangu. As her paddy crop was damaged due to scanty rainfall, she said, her family depends on millets in their menu to manage food crisis.

Another farmer Bipin Majhi of Kandhamal said he has cultivated millets in two acres of land. Last year, he earned at least Rs 10,000 from mandia and kandula. Though he has lost his paddy crop this year, he said, millet crops will see him throgh the year.

"Mixed cultivation and integrated farming will bailout a farmer from crop loss crisis," said Prashant Mohanty, adding, "Millet not only helps farmers earn some extra money, but also adds nutrition in their daily food."

He said mandia, janha and kandula are on demand than other millets. "If the state promotes the farming of millets and includes it in ICDS and PDS system, these crops will stage a comeback and resolve the agrarian crisis in state," Mohanty said.

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