MILLETS: The Future Food

Millets are a group of small-seeded grains cultivated for thousands of years in many parts of the world. They are a great source of nutrition, high in fibre and rich in vitamins, minerals and proteins. They have gluten-free properties, which makes them ideal for those with celiac disease or other gluten sensitivities. Millets can be cooked whole as porridge or ground into flour to make bread, cakes and pasta.

Millets, being grown in more than 130 countries, have been considered an integral part of the diet of over half a billion people across Asia and Africa for centuries. In India, Millets were among the first crops to be domesticated. In addition to many health benefits, millets are also good for the environment with low water & input requirement. Recognising the enormous potential of Millets to generate livelihoods, increase farmers’ income and ensure food & nutritional security worldwide, the Government of India (GoI) has prioritised Millets. In April 2018, Millets were rebranded as “Nutri Cereals”, followed by the year 2018 being declared as the National Year of Millets, aiming at more extensive promotion and demand generation.

United Nations declared the Year 2023 as the International Year of Millets on 5th March 2021, on the proposal moved by India and supported by 72 countries. It is essential to give such honour to the traditional wisdom of humanity. These are the first plants to be domesticated for food. On 6th December 2022, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations organised an opening ceremony for the International Year of Millets (IYM) 2023 in Rome, Italy. The Department of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare has taken a proactive multi-stakeholder engagement approach (engaging all the central government ministries, states/UTs, farmers, start-ups, exporters, retail businesses, hotels, Indian Embassies etc.) to achieve the aim of IYM 2023 and taking Indian millets globally. Ministries, states and Indian embassies have been allocated focused months in 2023 to carry out various activities to promote IYM and increase awareness about the benefits of millet for the Consumer, Cultivator and Climate.

There is evidence of the cultivation of millets in the Korean peninsula around 3500 B.C. In India, millets have been mentioned in Yajurveda Texts. Millet was extensively cultivated till around 50 years back. But due to the Western development model, India has neglected its traditional wisdom. Millets are cited as too primitive and coarse grains. It was looked at only as the food of rural people or ancestors. Besides that,the Green revolution had a negative impact on the production of millet. Before Green Revolution, the millets are 40 percent of total grain production. India produces 170 lakh tons of millet (20 % of the global output). The global average yield is 1,229 kg per hectare, while the average yield of millets in India is 1,239 kg per hectare.

Sustainable Development Goal 2 aims to achieve "zero hunger". It is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the UN in 2015. The official wording is: "End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.A profound change in the global food and agricultural system is needed to nourish today’s 800 million people. It can be possible by focusing on millet production. Nearly 40 percent of the global land surface is dryland. Millets are the most suitable crop for dryland agriculture.

These Nutri cereals are annual, short-duration (75 to 120 days) rainfed crops that grow well on shallowand low fertile soils with a pH range from acidic to alkaline soil. It has a low water requirement and can be grown even under extremely high temperatures and less rainfall. These are resistant to drought, resistant to most diseases and pests, and need minimum care. These are C4 plants that can convert CO2 into carbohydrates with higher photosynthetic efficiency than C3 plants.Millets are Nutri cereals and climate-resilient crops. It ensures food security, nutritional security, and economicsecurity for people. Milletsare superfoods that are rich in macro and micronutrients. They contain non-starchy polysaccharides, gluten-free proteins, high solublefibre content, high antioxidants, low glycemic index, and are rich in bioactive compounds. It is a good source of beta-carotene and B vitamins.

The term ‘Millet’ originated from the Latin word ‘Milum’ means grain. Millet is a group of cereals that belong to the Poaceae family commonly known as the grass family. There are various types of millet, which differ in their colour, texture, appearance, grain size, and species. On the basis of the size of the grain, these are classified into two types – Large or major millets and Small or minor millets.

Large (Major) Millets: Jowar (Sorghum), Bajra (Pearl Millet), Finger Millet (Ragi). Foxtail Millet (Kagni), and Proso (Cheena)Millet

Small (Minor) Millet: Kodo Millet (Kodra), Barnyard Millet (Sama), Browntop Millet (Hari Kagni), Little Millet (Kutki).

         Common Name




Sorghum vulgare

Brown, deep red


Pennisetum typhoids

White, yellow

Finger millet

Eleusine coracana

Red to purple

Foxtail millet

Setaria italica

White, yellow,red,brown, black

Proso millet

Panicum miliaceum

White,cream,yellow,orange,red,brown and black

Kodo millet

Paspalum scorbiculatum


Barnyard millet         

Echinochloa esculenta


Little millet

Panicum miliare

Off-white, creamish

Browntop millet

Urochloa ramosa

Greenish with brown colour at the top


In India, Jowar and Bajra are grown in most states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, except North East states, Himachal Pradeshand Jammu and Kashmir. Both can be grown as Kharif (July -November)and Rabi(October – February) crops. Traditional varieties of these crops are available in India. They exhibit a wide range of variations concerning duration and quality. They can be grown as sole crops, intercrop, and mixed crops. The crop duration varies from 90 -120 days. The mixed cropping of Jowar-Arhar and Jowar with other pulses and even Bajra and other cereals could be done.The crop rotation of mung followed by Jowar improves soil fertility. Bajra can also be grown as a mixed crop.

Finger millet (Ragi) is an important cereal of Karnataka. It grows as summer and Rabi crops in Southern India but mainly as a Kharif crop in Northern India. It can grow in alkaline soil with a pH as high as 11. The duration of the Ragi crop is 135 days. It grows as the sole crop in Southern India and Orissa, as a mixed crop with Jowar, Bajra, Oilseed, and Pulses, and as an off-season crop in rice fallow.Foxtail (Italian) millet can grow under tropical and temperate conditions. It grows throughout the year in Southern India. The duration of the crop is  80-100 days.The Little millet and Barnyard millet are also produced under rainfed conditions. Both can withstand drought and waterlogging conditions.Proso,Kodo, and Browntop millets are highly drought resistant. Browntop has the shortest duration of 70-75 days among all millets.

Millets are also grown in irrigated conditions. One to two ploughing is enough for the cultivation of millets. The seed rate for sowing varies from millet to millet. 3 to 4 rain is sufficient to grow these crops.Thesowing is done through seed drill or dribbling. Nitrogenous fertilisers or phosphatic fertilisers are required in small quantities. There is a minimum or no requirement for pesticides. The panicles contain grains, and the stalk and leaves are utilised as fodder for animals.

Millets and Health

Millets are rich in non-starchy polysaccharides, fibre, and low glycemic index, which controls blood sugar levels, and arethe ideal grain for diabetic patients. The soluble fibre and millet protein help to improve gut health and reduce cholesterol levels. Millets are gluten-free grains, a viable choice for people with celiac disease. Ragi is an excellent source of calcium and is suitable for bone health, blood vessels, muscular contraction, and nerve function. Kodo millet is rich in iron. It purifies the blood, reduces hypertension, and regulates the body's immune system. Foxtail millet keeps neurons (brain cells) healthy. Little millet is good for the thyroid. Because of the goodness of nutrients, these are termed Nutri cereals. These should be part of the daily diet, and each millet should be consumed in a week on a rotational basis. Bajrais best to eat in winter and Jowar in summer.Barnyard millet is usually eaten during religious fasts and is suitable for liver health. Browntop millet has anti-cancerous properties. Kutki, Sama, and Kagni can be substituted for rice. 

These are coarse grains, so prior soaking of 6 to 8 hours before cooking is required. Traditional millet recipes like millet roti and millet khichdi already exist on the regional level. Besides that, many innovative recipes like millet dosa, millet idli, pancakes, millet bread, waffles, crispy crumbs in the salad, and cookies are developing professionally in hotels, bakeries, and also at home. New ideas to improve its palatability and acceptability by all age groups will end the hidden hunger and can fulfill the goal of zero hunger. Millet farming can play a crucial role in sustainable agriculture and make farmers prosperous.

Millets are also an integral part of the G-20 meetings, and delegates will be given an actual millet experience through tasting, meeting farmers and interactive sessions with start-ups and FPOs. The spirit of the whole government approach is indeed seen in the celebration of the International Year of Millets 2023.