Millets Seed System – An experience from Odisha Millets Mission


Addressing the issue of seed scarcity, participatory varietal trials were conducted with farmers at the Centre. After systematic assessment, identifies suitable varieties were multiplied and made accessible through community managed seed banks.

Millets are one of the oldest foods known to humans and possibly the first among cereal grains to be cultivated for domestic purposes. These are small-seeded grasses that are hardy and grow well in dry zones as rain-fed crops, under marginal conditions of soil fertility and moisture. Important millet crops grown in India are Sorghum (Great millet), Bajra (Pearl millet), Ragi (Finger millet) and small millets viz., Korra (Foxtail millet), little millet, Kodo millet, Proso millet and Barnyard millet. These were often referred to as coarse cereals but realizing the nutrient richness of the grains they are now gazetted as “Nutricereals” by Government of India.

Post Green Revolution in India, there has been a decline in the production of millets. In Odisha too, 16.7% area under all millets and 32% area under ragi have declined. The major millet growing districts were motivated towards cash crop like eucalyptus, cashew, mango and other plantation crops in millet growing field due to non-availability of quality seeds, poor yield, less market price, non-subsidized inputs from Government.

Seed is an essential input for crop production. Access to quality seed of superior varieties is key in increasing agricultural productivity and production. Use of quality seeds alone could increase productivity by 15 – 20 % indicating the critical role of seed in agriculture. The Government of Odisha supports only 2% certified finger millet seeds whereas 73% area is cultivated under finger millets. The private sector is not forthcoming for multiplying the open pollinated varieties (OPVs) as there is no proprietary advantage. The seed requirement shows that the farmers are inevitably sourcing seed from informal sector mostly through own-saved seed or from local markets where grain is sold as seed during sowing time, leading to low productivity. So for millet farmers, production of quality seed from popular and site specific varieties is very essential. This article explains about the alternative millet seed system working in Odisha to support millet growers under Odisha Millets Mission.

Alternative Millet Seed System

PVT selection process by farmers

In 2017, Odisha’s Department of Agriculture and Farmers Empowerment (DA&FE) launched a five-year programme known as Odisha Millets Mission (OMM) in tribal areas to revive millets in farms and on plate. Considering its phenomenal success, the state government has extended OMM to 142 blocks during 2022, with a target of reaching out to more than 75,000 hectares (Ha) and around 1.5 lakh farmers. In this mission, Watershed Support Services and Activities Network (WASSAN) is the implementing partner working with selected NGOs and Community Managed Organization (CBO) at CD block level for promotion of millets, Nabakrushna Choudhury Centre of Developmental Studies (NCDS) is the research partner working on baseline, mid-term and endline survey. Department of Agriculture and Food Production (DAFP) is the monitoring and evaluation partner. One of the agendas of this mission is to increase millet productivity by providing support to improved access to quality seeds of promising varieties of millet.

More than 70% area is cultivated by finger millets in millet growing districts of Odisha. Broadcasting is the major sowing system followed by single weeding. No plant population is maintained and nutrient and pest management system is absent in the cultivation practices. The prevalent seed rate was 12-15kg/ha. The finger millet was being cultivated not only as a solo crop but also in inter and mix cropping system. From the baseline survey conducted by NCDS from 7 OMM operational districts in 2016-17, finger millet yield was found to be 5.8 (ql/ha), which is much below the national average yield.

There are a few finger millet notified varieties which were released by Government of Odisha more than 5-7 years ago. But these varieties are not accessible to farming communities. Therefore, farmers have been cultivating more than 50 traditional varieties which were saved from generations and in impure stage. These traditional varieties are neither recognized nor notified by any Government agencies because they are not taken under breeding process.  In an effort to mainstream these traditional varieties, Odisha Millet Mission has been working on the traditional varieties of ragi.

Process of Alternative Seed System

A. Exploration, documentation and in-situ conservation

Odisha Millet Mission has explored some of the landraces of rice, millets, pulses and oil seeds which are still being grown in few pockets of the districts. The explored varieties are kept both in field gene bank established in the block attached to Community Management Seed System (CMSS) programme of OMM and also in the State Seed Testing Laboratories (SSTL) in Bhubaneswar in a cryogenic system. In the field gene bank, landraces are grown in farmer’s field every year and farmers choose the best varieties, for further multiplication. Farmers are provided access to the landraces from SSTL, in case of loss of landrace owing to natural calamities. Till now, there are 97 different traditional millet varieties being stored in SSTL.

Some of the Characteristics of Preferred Ragi landraces from Primary conserver

Name of the


Yield potential (ql/ha) Special Characters Exploration districts
Arengu 130 15-17 Tall, more productive tillers, its gruel is tasty Gajapati
Bada Mandia 130 12.2-14 Higher yield, thick soup & tasty Koraput, Rayagada, Malkangiri
Bagad Mandia 125 12.2-14.2 Long finger, less disease & pests, Dark brown grains Bolangir
Bhoda Mandia 115 7.5-9 Dwarf, more number of productive tillers, popular, light brown grains Bolangir
Bati Mandia 130 13-15 long duration, higher yield, incurved finger, tasty with thick gruel, no disease & pests, seed colour light brown Koraput
Budha Mandia 130 9.5-12 Good plant type with high tillers, open panicles , No disease & pest occurrence, popular variety Kandhamal
Burkha Mandia 125 8.5-10 Bold grain, less shattering, tasty, No disease and pest Kandhamal
Dushera Mandia 120 10.2-13.5 Less disease & pest, popular variety, medium grain, light brown seed Koraput, Malkangiri
Dhepka Mandia 120 10.5-12.2 Good tillers with Semi compact panicles and 4-6 no.of fingers,  non-shattering, good grain filling Rayagada
Hatabhanga Mandia 120 20-22  Good plant type with high tillers, Semi Compact type of Panicles, Fingers are more with well grain filling, No disease ,pest occurrence Gajapati
Jamba Mandia 140 15-17 long duration, compact panicle, copper brown seed colour Koraput
Jhupa Mandia 110 9.5-11 Uniform grain size, deep red colour seed, Kalahandi
Kala Kerenga Mandia 135 13-16 Popular variety, long duration, dark purple seed colour, more fingers Koraput
Kantamara Mandia 110 15-17 High tillering, good seed establishment, Dark brown colour seed Gajapati
Karkati Mandia 120 7.2-10 medium duration, light purple, bold grain, open panicle Rayagada
Khunta Mandia 110 12.5-15 Dark brown seed colour, resistance to high water stress Bolangir

B. Characterization of millet landraces

The explored millet landraces from different parts of Odisha are grown in Agro-ecological center. They are characterized as per the prescribed format developed by All India Coordinated Research Project (AICRP) of India. Distinctness, Uniformity and Stability (DUS) are developed by ICAR-IIMR. Around 12 Ragi landraces among 66 yielded higher than Government recommended varieties, promoted by Government of Odisha. The millets which are not available or cultivated in Odisha are also conserved and characterized in the centre. They include Proso millet, Barnyard millet, Browntop millet, Teff which will be provided to farming communities for further multiplication.  Farmers and experts from research institutions have visited these landraces plots and have requested for seed materials.

C. Participatory Varietal Trial (PVT)

The Participatory Varietal Trial (PVT) was conducted in farmer’s field to find out the best varieties from a pool of landraces for a small agro-ecological region. The process adopted is as follows:

In each block, planning meeting was conducted with farmers, OMM representatives and staffs of wassan to decide upon selection of plot, farmers, source of irrigation, layouting and designing. Few local ragi varieties were collected from the block or districts. Some local varieties were collected by WASSAN from different organizations or districts to support the trial.

The PVT trial was designed in Randomized Block Design (RBD) in three replications with government recommended varieties as check. The minimum plot size per variety per replication is 25sq.m. Distance between replication to replication was kept  at 100cm and variety to variety in the replication was 60cm. Twenty one to twenty five days seedlings were uprooted and planted in rows of 20 x 10 cm.

The plots were treated with 5 to 7q good dried FYM as basal dose and ploughed thoroughly. Equal amount of liquid JIBAMRUTA was applied to each plot after 1st weeding (15 days after transplanting) and after 30 days & 45 days of transplantation. Water supply during late vegetative stage, flowering period and milky stage was ensured. The farmers and grass root workers regularly visited the PVT plots for monitoring and recording.

 During physiological maturity stage, a field day was organized for selection of varieties. Male and female farmers (20 – 60 years age) are invited from cluster of villages to the replication plot. Names of varieties are decoded and the purpose of visit is explained to farmers. Farmers are divided into groups of 5-10 members. Each group along with a Community Resource Person (CRP) will enter the trial plot, discuss and tag the varieties as best, very well and poor. The CRP records the reasons for the tags assigned.

The researcher will also collect both visual and measurement characters of the varieties during vegetative stage. First five plants/plot/variety/replication will be selected randomly. Data from selected plants will be collected in a prescribed format. Crop Cutting Experiments-CCE (1 x 1 sq.m) data for each variety from each replication will be collected and fresh and dry grain weight is recorded. Ten finger millets traditional varieties were found to be superior in yield over the check plot.

The data of selected varieties both from farmers and researchers is compiled and compared, to come out with the best two varieties for the block. Seed production of these selected varieties is planned for next year.


Participatory Varietal Trials  demonstration ( 2018 – 21)
Season No of Districts No of blocks No of farmers No. of traditional landrace/

No. of Check (Govt.)


No. of final selected trad. varieties No. of selected Govt. varieties
Kharif 2018-19 5 12 12 79 14 18 6
Rabi 2018-19 2 4 4 26 3 2 4
Kharif 2019-20 12 39 39 185 41 71 8
Kharif 2020-21 3 12 12 104 15 23 1
Kharif 2021-22 2 12 12 107 12 23 1

Source: PVT reports of Odisha Millets Mission

D.Seed production and mass selection

The two selected finger millets varieties from PVT is cultivated during the second year on one hectare of farmers field for seed production. Seeds are treated organically and an isolation distance of one meter is maintained between varieties. During maturity stage farmers are invited to select good seed patches from the field. Mother panicles are collected and harvested. After proper sun drying, the seeds are kept safely in the Community Seed banks at 10-12% moisture level.

Seed Production of traditional varieties
Sl Particulars 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22
1 Number of Districts 5 12 2
2 Number of Blocks 10 45 8
3 Number of farmers 19 93 17
4 Number of traditional varieties 14 47 17
5 Number of Govt. recommended varieties 1 4 0
6 Area in Ha 10.5 56 8
  Total quality seeds (Qntls) 27.18 122.6 38.3

E. Seed Multiplication

Quality seeds produced in 2nd year of the seed programme are kept in the community seed bank. Under OMM each block has one main seed bank which preserves, maintains and supplies quality seed to farmers. Seeds were multiplied on farmers fields by the Farmers Producer Organizations (FPO) after properly assessing the seed requirement at the block or district level. The FPO selected experienced farmers for seed multiplication and provided training on quality seed multiplication, rouging, intercultural operations and maintenance. An MoU was signed to fix the seed procurement price and quantity to be procured.

F. Seed Purification

Promising and potential ragi landraces were collected from the PVT for purification and validation. In the year 2018-19, 14 well performed Ragi landraces were collected from PVT.  These 14 landraces along with 2 improved varieties were grown in RBD method in Bhubaneswar under control condition in 2 replications. Four Ragi landraces Mami, Kalia, Bati & Bharati were selected by experts as superior among all other landraces and checks. In the year 2019-20, these four Ragi landraces were grown in two replications and data collected.

G. Multi-location trials of purified landraces and release

Multi-location trials of the four landraces were conducted in four locations. The purified four varieties along with local checks, national checks and state checks were trialed in farmer’s field in RBD method with three replications. Experts from IIMR, OUAT and other eminent breeders visits were organized during crop growth period. A working group on seeds was constituted to guide the OMM team on variety purification and different trial design and documentation. All the agronomic data collected were analyzed on yield attribute traits, field level disease & pest resistance, nutritional profiling, 50% flowering and maturity in days etc., using OPSTAT software.

Four landraces Identification proposal for different agro climatic zones has been submitted to DA&FP to discuss with Landraces Varietal Release committee for release. Department of Agriculture and Farmers Empowerment (DA&FP), Odisha has approved Standard Operating Procedure (SoP) for landraces seed system in April 2022. A committee is in place which guides the release of varieties (see Box 1).

Box 1

Under SoP for landraces seed system, a landraces varietal release committee has the following role:

  • To advise the State Government on all matters relating to the mainstreaming of the Landraces in the State.
  • To review the implementation of the Govt approved Standard Operating Procedure (SoP) on Landraces in the State and to send periodic reports to the State Government
  • To assess and release of landraces of crops for the State considering the different traits of the landraces and community/ farmers preference
  • Guide on seed standards monitoring as per approved proposal
  • To review the assessment of landraces seed requirements especially of certified, foundation seed and plan for different regions of the state
  • Any other functions may be assigned to it by State Government in connection with the implementation of Govt approved SoP on Alternate Seed Systems For Landraces ‘
  • To facilitate the landraces for registration as farmers varieties under PPVFRA
  • To support and guide for preparation of Geographical Indication (GI) tagging proposal of landraces


The millet seed system operated under Odisha Millets Mission is reducing the millet seed scarcity. The promising varieties of finger millets are now popular among the farmers and they can access from the community seed banks. FPOs are strengthened on seed multiplication and are selling the seeds. Once the landraces committee approves the proposal, then for the first time the millet landraces seeds will be produced in formal seed chain and supply to the farmers.


  1. Maheswari, D. B., Promotion of Millets Cultivation through Consumption, 2016, International Journal of Current Research and Academic Review, Issue-3, 74-80pages.
  2. INDIA, T. A., Millets The future food of India. New Delhi: IIMR & Nutrihub, 2022
  3. Fian, I., Millets Future of food & Farming, 2015, Telengana, Millet Network of India – Deccan Development Society

Susanta Sekhar Choudhury, Biswa Sankar Das, Pulak Ranjan Nayak, Abhishek Pradhan, Bikash Das

Susanta Sekhar Chaudhury

Senior Programme Officer

Odisha Millets Mission

Watershed Support Service and Activities Network (WASSAN)

B/206, HIG Duplex BDA Colony, RBI Colony, Baramunda, Bhubaneswar, Odisha 751003


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