In 2023, the United Nations recognised the “International Year of Millets”, marking a significant milestone that positively impacted the global millet value chain. This declaration ignited a renewed focus on cultivating and consuming millets, generating a powerful momentum. Acknowledging the importance of this grain, the Indian government renamed millets “Shree Anna,” symbolising its deep connection to Carnatic culture, and is actively implementing initiatives to promote millet cultivation and consumption throughout the country.
However, despite these promising advancements, many marginalised farmers who operate small independent farms, especially in the southern region of India have been unable to reap the benefits. Their lack of awareness, skills, market connections, and restricted access to modern agricultural technology have impeded their productivity and profitability.
Technology will play a crucial role in addressing these challenges and transforming the millet food system into a sustainable model that supports rural livelihoods. Enhancing accessibility, raising awareness about the advantages of millet farming, and establishing market linkages are all vital components of this transformation. Ensuring digital inclusion for local farmers and actively involving the younger generation, particularly students, as essential stakeholders are pivotal steps in this direction.
New agricultural methods
The existing differences in millet farming practices across regions provide interesting opportunities for technological intervention and knowledge sharing. For example, in Andhra Pradesh, crops are grown with closer spacing, whereas wider spacing is recommended in Kerala. By creating awareness about these new techniques, farmers can optimise their own agricultural methods to maximise productivity.
Integrating technology into farming processes can help automate labor-intensive tasks like processing, relieving farmers of some of their workload and allowing them to allocate time to other vital activities. In addition, technology intervention provides farmers and the local community with a broader market reach, establishing connections with potential buyers, guaranteeing fair prices, and promoting sustainable growth while alleviating the issue of the “digital divide.”
Investing in technological advancements
In rural areas, public-private partnerships (PPPs) and various corporate initiatives are driving progress by providing essential training to farmers and enabling them to utilise technology effectively. Recognising the potential for significant advancements in the agricultural sector, there is a growing emphasis on investing in technology within agricultural colleges. These colleges benefit farmers directly but also serve as incubators for small-scale agri-businesses led by enthusiastic young volunteers and students. Their collaboration with partners involves conducting in-depth analyses of the local millet food system and developing prototypes that promote sustainable farming practices for millet cultivation.
Encouraging student involvement through technology
A remarkable shift is taking place as stakeholders embrace the renewed interest in millet cultivation, marking a commitment to a second agricultural revolution. Let’s consider the College of Applied Science IHRD, in Kerala. A significant number of students at this college hail from farming backgrounds and are often the first in their families to pursue higher education. Driven by their deep-rooted passion for agriculture and a desire to make a meaningful impact in their communities, these students are working with corporates like Lenovo on projects like Work for Humankind and helping promote millet cultivation using technology. Such an environment fosters innovation, creativity, and an entrepreneurial mindset among students. This ensures that the knowledge gained from their endeavours is theoretical and practically applied, yielding enduring positive changes.
The revival of millets and the sustainable development of agriculture hinge upon embracing technology-driven initiatives as a powerful force for change. To achieve this, we must disseminate knowledge of innovative farming practices, invest in technology for farmers and agricultural colleges, and inspire and support students. However, it is essential for corporations and government policies to play their part in creating an enabling ecosystem that nurtures and encourages young students to pursue careers in agriculture. By fostering collaboration among local stakeholders, academia, and policymakers, we can pave the way for a prosperous future where the fusion of technology and agriculture drives the revival of millets, ensuring a resilient and thriving society for the betterment of humankind.
The author is former principal, College of Applied Science, IHRD an autonomous institution under the Government of Kerala