T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net
Millets, the so-called ‘poor man’s’ cereal and a ‘neglected and under-utilised crop’ in scientific parlance, could bridge poor farmers of two ancient continents, Africa and Asia. An Afro-Asian millets network was launched together today (15 Oct), where millet networks agreed to draw attention to research and promotion of millets as a way to preserve agricultural biodiversity, especially in poor soils where few other crops grow.
“Who is implementing the Aichi targets? The governmental groups ganging up together to get funds for Aichi targets, or the poor farmers, especially women, who have been doing in-situ (on field) biodiversity conservation without any money?” questioned P V Sateesh, director of Hyderabad-based Deccan Development Society that organised the millets network launch.
There is need for strong research and development, and exchange programmes on millets, as millets can be a source of livelihoods and nutrition for majority of farmers below the poverty line, T A Prakash, professor at the department of agriculture economics at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bengaluru, emphasised.
Even if one wants to promote millets today, there are neither simple mechanical tools for harvesting and milling, or innovations in the sector, he explained later to me.
Despite the neglect, some doughty farmers are pushing ahead with millets.
“Millets are an important part of the food chain and we are fighting to bring back the millets, says Mohammad Coulibaly, from Institute for Research and Promotion of Alternatives in development (IRPAD,) Mali. In Africa, land where poor farmers once grew millets in giving way to commercial cotton, says Rene Segbenou from Coalition to Protect Genetic Heritage, from Benin.
India’s north-eastern state of Nagaland in the eastern Himalayas holds an annual millets festival every year, and local farmers groups resist the government’s efforts to replant the area with ‘alien commercial’ plants such as rubber and Jatropha.
Such alien commercial concepts means “we have lost the essence of life, the essence of biodiversity,” pints out Seno, a woman farmer from the state.
Prakash says that wheat-maize economies dominated by the west, and national governments’ support for rice as the major crop in Asia, have together led to the neglect of millets.
“Millets can be a powerful tool for the third world to fight the wheat-maize agriculture systems dominated by the west,” he said at the launch of the network.
This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012.