Revival of millets – Ensuring food and nutritional security

Millet based cropping systems suited to local agroecology have stood the test of time and extreme weather conditions. Sustenance of such agricultural systems is also critical to address the issues of malnutrition among the tribal communities.

Millets have been an integral part of everyday diets of indigenous communities in Odisha. Millet crops are climate-resilient, capable of growing in rainfed conditions with low water requirements. They are the source of food security and nutrition for the small and marginal farmers.

Indigenous communities practice shifting cultivation on medium and uplands along the hill slopes, where the crop is cultivated during June to September.  Subsistence farming is practiced by a majority of the farmers for household level consumption. Only 10-20% of the farm produce is sold in the local haats (local markets). Traditionally, they have been practicing mixed farming and crop rotation, which are best suited to the local agroecology. These cropping patterns have stood the test of time and extreme weather variabilities. Changes in the daily dietary patterns have been observed since the last two decades with more rural households preferring rice, which is readily available under the Public distribution system (PDS). Besides subsistence agriculture, local communities are dependent on the forest for Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFP). Distress migration is a reality for most poor households in Kandhamal.

The Initiative

In the year 2012, NIRMAN started its work with local indigenous communities promoting mixed, biodiverse and sustainable agriculture practices and ecological farming. As a first step, Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) exercise was conducted in all the villages to collect baseline information. Information on various aspects like household income, status of indigenous agriculture practices followed, extent of seed diversity etc. To motivate the communities to revive their indigenous agricultural practices, a village level meeting was organized to discuss issues related to erosion of the indigenous crop diversity, indigenous agriculture practices and sustainable agriculture.

Some of the women in Nayagarh and Kandhamal districts have clearly articulated the various challenges in the cultivation of minor millets in the region. There has been drastic reduction in the area under cultivation of minor millets and also a reduction in yields of the crops. This reduction is to the tune of 25-30% of the cultivated area and almost a third in the reduction of crop yields, over the last two decades. The major reasons attributed include non availability of local indigenous varieties of seeds, restrictions to undertake “Podu chas” on the hill slopes by the forest department, large-scale deforestation and accelerated soil erosion.

Trainings on millet-based mixed farming were conducted during the first year of project intervention. During the second year, village level trainings were done on sustainable agricultural practices, focusing on indigenous mixed and biodiverse farming system and the need to restore seed diversity. The major strategy of our intervention was to promote women-led approaches, to assert their control over food production system and to conserve indigenous agro-biodiversity.

Village meetings were conducted with women. Village Level Institutions (VLIs) were promoted. Around 21 VLIs were formed and the members were trained on the management of millet-based community seed banks. Currently around 27 community-based seed banks have been formed, supporting around 600 farmers in 27 villages. Heirloom seeds of 12 indigenous crops of local choice were supplied to local communities as one-time seed-capital, for conservation. These 12 crop varieties were revived within one cropping season.

Women were encouraged to practice mixed farming in an effort to revive the indigenous mixed farming system. Restoring seed diversity was focused. The major strategy was to promote women-led approaches.

Communities were encouraged to cultivate millets both on uplands and low lands. Major minor millets cultivated in the region got a new fillip under the Millet Mission project. Minor millets are grown for 2-3 months during the Kharif season. Most of the small and marginal farmers who cultivate on the highlands, prefer to grow paddy for reasons of food security. Partial substitution of paddy with alley cropping is considered to be more appropriate measure to achieve the crop diversification. Mixed cropping of different combinations of crops is therefore being popularized.

Nirman also motivated the communities to adopt System of Millet Intensification (SMI) availing the subsidy of cash transfer under the Millets Mission. This has led to the increase of area under cultivation and yield of ragi in most villages covered under the Millets Mission project.

Table 1: Millets cultivation data of 2021-22, NIRMAN, Odisha

Sl No. Block No of village covered No of farmers involved Total area covered

in Ha.

Total surplus ragi procured (through TDCC) in quintals Total INR received through Procurement Total incentive transferred to the farmers account (INR)
1 Tumudibandha 212 2255 1081.4 3850.69 12965755.1 1659800
2 Kotagada 75 1096 700.2 3762.74 4798142.9 1602000
3 Dasapalla (1st Yr) 22 496 190.95 0 0 1699659
4 K.Singhpur 57 1675 1075 2500 8442500 1069000
Total 366 5522 3047.55 10113.43 26206398 6030459

 NIRMAN has supported farmers groups for processing of minor millets like provisioning of millets processing units including solar based in remote tribal hinterlands. The women’s groups are involved in aggregation, processing, packaging and marketing of the millets to earn better income.

Custom hiring centres were established for hiring implements, machines for post-harvest operations (clean millet harvests) at cluster level.

Millets are now being procured by the Government under the Odisha Millets Mission. There is a MSP for Ragi. However, MSP has not yet been set up by the Government for other types of millets. The millets are now part of the PDS and MDM schemes in the state, though on a pilot basis. Millets are also sold at the Government outlets in various towns and cities. There are only a few Government marketing agencies like Mission Shakti/OLM and very few private companies like ORMAS and TRIFED. International marketing of millets is just evolving. A few civil society actors have started to link up with international consumers recently using digital marketing channels, especially in countries like Germany.

Results and Impact

Women farmers have been playing a major role in the revival of indigenous crops, management of the community-based seed banks and conservation of the indigenous agro-biodiversity.

Seed festivals are jointly organized in Kandhamal and Nayagarh districts to facilitate farmer to farmer interactions, knowledge transfer and exchange of traditional best varieties of millets. There is a growing awareness and interest among farmers to adopt ecological farming systems and practices and practice traditional methods of organic farming.

Presently, the community-based seed banks have been maintaining heirloom seeds of 55 indigenous crops, which include millets, maize, pulses, vegetables and edible tubers. Communities now cultivate 7 varieties of indigenous paddy, 6 varieties of indigenous maize, 3 varieties of finger millet, 3 varieties of little millet, 2 varieties of barnyard millet, 2 varieties of pearl millet, 3 varieties of foxtail millet, 2 varieties of sorghum, 4 varieties of pigeon pea, 2 varieties of cow pea, 3 varieties of rice bean, 4 varieties of country bean, 2 varieties of black gram, horse gram and 17 types of edible tubers, under millets-based mixed farming system.


Women play a major role both in the fight against climate change and in eradicating chronic hunger and malnutrition. The bondage between millets and women in these tribal tracts is indispensable. Revival of millets is a boon to mitigate the prevalent malnutrition amongst the poor.

It is important to design strategies to encourage the cultivation, maintenance and propagation of local varieties of millets in the region with good marketing strategies, so that their cultivation is comparable to the cash crops. These policy options may help to maintain enough landraces for in situ evolution in view of imminent climate change.

Millet cultivation owing to its several benefits, has been proactively promoted by the Millets Mission, local NGOs and farmer organizations in Odisha. However, caution need to be exercised to ensure that a complete commercial approach for the cultivation of millets should not lead to monocultures, resulting in the loss of crop diversity.

Ravi Shankar Behera

Ravi Shankar Behera

Consultant, NIRMAN

2D-1, Metro Mansion Apartments,

Rabi Talkies Chak, Old Town,



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