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Millets: An Option for Food Security and Environmental Resilience

~ by Amrita Neelakantan (coordinator NCCI)

To grow food sustainably means moving beyond the calorie-focus of the green revolution. Before we all ate rice and wheat as staples, there were other cereals in our diets and in our agriculture. The calorific gains from the green revolution while undeniable are proving to be too single-minded with a few persisting challenges like undernourishment, micronutrient deficiencies and groundwater depletion. To consider what sustainable crop production might mean for a country like India, this paper by Kyle Davis and co-authors built multiple scenarios of monsoon cereals.

The reason to focus on monsoon cereals is because the maximum production of the cereals that could be used to make the switch occurs alongside rice in monsoon and the fact that cereals make-up a large percentage of the typical Indian diet. The authors included cereals already in focus by the current nutrition policies and therefore they excluded maize. Each scenario built, keeps in mind the current calorie production and current extent of cropland.

They explain scenarios where crop-switching would provide improved nutrition security, environmental benefits, and climate resilience gains. The study provides a robust case for assessing trade-off analyses among nutrient supply, climate resilience, and environmental outcomes to create more sustainable food systems.

The main optimized scenarios that the authors build are: Maximum supply of protein or iron; maximum savings in water, energy and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG emissions); and finally maximum climate resilience. The authors define climate resilience as the least loss in production during a historically extreme dry year.

In the below scenario – the goal in mind is to have maximum water savings and help identify the places that might achieve the largest benefits. Highly sought after, such analyses can begin to help policy makers and managers on-the-ground focus on how best to manage water in the future by balancing demands by urban centers and agriculture within the state or district.

The paper includes the context of millets in diets historically with each scenario (color) only built in two ways (solid and faded). The first when millet production is unconstrained (solid) and the second where millets are restricted to the maximum area reported within a district (faded).

As a conclusion to this summary of a very useful paper, please notice that across scenarios and optimization goals central India sees the highest gains. Please read the paper in full here.

Details for Madhya Pradesh (a) and Maharashtra (b):

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