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The Year Of The Millets- Reactions From A Generation That Has Grown Up On Rice and Wheat

Having studied extensively about the Green Revolution and its impact on rice and wheat cultivation in India, 2023 being designated as the Year of The Millets caused a stir in the Young Writers' Club. What's with the sudden brouhaha around millets? Having grown up with rice and wheat as staple ingredients of their diets, switching over to millets wasn't exactly a tempting option to most of the teens at the Young Writers' Club.

Millets have become the shining beacon in the food industry today. As a sequel to the previous discussion, Talking About Food Security and Millets at the Young Writers' Club, the young writers set out to find out what led to the sudden change.

Taste over health:

The discussions began with every teen sharing their preferences in terms of grains they like to eat. The general consensus was that millets is least preferred grain for its lack of taste. Given this background, the promotion of millet as a more healthy grain remained a daunting question. The teens set off to do research to find out why a grain that they least prefer is considered healthy. Millets help control blood sugar, contain protein, low on gluten, rich in minerals and reduce chances of cardiovascular diseases. So overall millets are very healthy. Hyderabadi Biryani fans in the group were quick to retort and insist that millets though healthy are not versatile like rice and cannot ever imagine Hyderabadi Biryani made out of millets. They further extended the argument saying that there are several recipes which are less likely to taste good with millets.

How affordable is millet?

Referring back to findings from the previous discussion, facts that helped correlate fall in rice and wheat production and the move to promote millet production led to a pertinent question about millets in general being expensive. This finding puzzled many of us who have heard of the poor relying on ragi. In states like Karnataka poor people rely on millets to sustain themselves for food while ragi muddha which is a traditional recipe found in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Digging deeper, it was discovered that Ragi is a low priced food at approximately Rs. 36 a kg. There are a variety of millets other than ragi was a revelation to a generation that has grown up predominantly on rice and wheat. Millets range from Rs. 34-93 a kg while rice ranges from Rs.60-80 a kg and wheat which is around Rs.23-50 , a kg. It was also noted that the organic varieties of grains are far more expensive leading to a branch off in discussion about the efficacy of organic farming in terms of being able to supply affordable food.

A grain that isn't as tasty and versatile as rice and wheat, potentially expensive continues to be promoted in 2023. What led to all the fuss about millets?

One of the teens tracked down one possible reason for the current boom in millets to a program launch by the United Nations in Rome in December 2022. She linked the program launch with food security. The program launch initiated millets cultivation to transform dry lands and produce food. Her research found that millets require lesser water and are suitable in drought ridden regions. Furthermore, another teen supplemented this fact with another finding that brought climate change as well into the equation. "Millet crops," he pointed out, "have also helped in reducing carbon emissions by 15 million tonnes due to their ability to sequester carbon."

Startling facts discovered: Facts that made the group sit up and ponder

The wheat crisis in 2022 was caused by highly unusual temperatures in March and April 2022. This heat wave caused India’s wheat production to be reduced by 2.5% in the 2021-22 rabi season(October-December). The government also lost 55% procurement from farmers because they felt that the open market offered more lucrative prices and could be used for profit. Rice production also saw a decline on account of unseasonal rainfall. If we must move to millets partly or completely, what would help in convincing people? For a group of teens who particularly dislike millets, this was a tough problem to solve.

Not the ones to give up easily on any problem, they brainstormed and arrived at the following possibilities:

  • Change the recipe to make millet food items taste better for teens. Perhaps create more user friendly recipes that are easy to make and are tasty as well.

  • Use the power of advertising to highlight the benefits. One teen even took inspiration from Nike ads to make the customer the focus of the ads and enhance the feel good factor of using a product or convey an appealing message which in turn conveys a favourable image of the product itself.

  • Using advanced technologies to boost production of rice and wheat to avoid a complete transformation to millets.

Vagaries of agriculture have a direct impact on what we eat. Being aware of what is going on in that sphere, pondering over how resources are managed/can be managed, how decisions are taken at different levels, taking into account one's own preferences in the light of an issue that impacts the world, the inter disciplinary approach to solve real life problems etc; were the fruits of these discussions at the Young Writers' Club.

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Both weekday and weekend batches are available at the Young Readers' Club. While this program is for the 8-12 age group, the Young Writers' Club program for the 13-15 age group offers a weekly platform to read and discuss curated articles from the news, observe writing approaches and practise one's writing skills.

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