The one-day workshop on ‘Diversification of diet: Importance of inclusion of millets in the Diet Menu of ICDS, Mid-Day Meal Scheme and Urban Canteens- A study of select Metro Cities of Telangana and Karnataka’ has been organised with an aim to bring together researchers from multiple disciplines, practitioners, administrators, entrepreneurs relating to millets to discuss the importance of millets in addressing food and nutrition security.

The inaugural session of the workshop was embraced with distinguished speakers, shedding light on the challenges and perspectives related to millets, diet diversity, and food policy. The session presided over by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hyderabad, Prof. B.J. Rao, featured notable addresses from experts in economics, nutrition, and agriculture.

Dr. Khadar Valli (Padma Sri Awardee and popularly known as Millet Man of India), the Guest of Honor emphasized the importance of promoting millets for food and nutritional security, advocating for a campaign against the dominance of rice, wheat, and sugarcane in Indian diets. Highlighting millets’ gut-friendly nature and their role in tackling body toxicity, Dr. Valli criticized the corporatization of agriculture and its impact on India’s food culture. He underscored the capacity of millet to remove metabolic waste and called for institutional support in promoting millet consumption.

Prof. Jean Dreze (Visiting Professor, Ranchi University) who joined online, raised concerns about the defunding of crucial programs like the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and the Midday Meal Scheme (MDMS), pointing out their broad benefits beyond educational outcomes, including employment opportunities. He highlighted the declining mineral quality of rice and wheat and pointed out the “cereal gap,” with the net availability of cereals significantly higher than consumption since the 2000s. Prof. Dreze noted the sharp decline in the consumption of traditional cereals like bajra and jowar, particularly in Maharashtra, and the nutritional deficiencies prevalent in South Asia, emphasizing the need to address the decline of millets without substituting them for other essential foods like eggs in the MDMS.

Prof. Mahendra Dev (Editor, Economic and Political Weekly; Former VC, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai)), who joined online, focused on the economics of millet cultivation, noting that while price support for millets has increased, procurement has not risen proportionately, and the per hectare yield of millets remains low. He highlighted the critical role of millets in addressing nutritional deficiencies, especially given that a significant portion of the Indian population cannot afford a healthy diet. Prof. Dev advocated for improvements in the post-harvest process and a large-scale increase in millet cultivation to make them more accessible to marginalized communities.

The second session chaired by Prof. R.S. Deshpande (Honorary Visiting Professor and Former Director, Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bengaluru) and moderated by Prof. Amalendu Jyotishi (School of Development, Azim Premji University Bengaluru), involved a panel discussion with Prof. Geeta Vemuganti (Dean, School of Medical Sciences, UoH), Dr. C. Tara Satyavathi (Director, Indian Institute of Millets Research, Hyderabad), Smt. Divya IAS (Director, Municipal Administration, Govt. of Telangana), and Sri Kaunteya Dasa (Chief Executive Officer, Hare Krishna Movement Charitable Foundation), covering a wide range of topics from climate-resilient nutri-cereals to the administrative and practical challenges of incorporating millets into diets and agricultural policies. Prof. Satyavathi highlighted the climate resilience of millets, their nutritional benefits, and the Indian government’s efforts to promote them, including designating 2018 as the National Year of Millets and 2023 as the International Year of Millets. She pointed to the underdeveloped infrastructure for millet processing as a significant challenge. Prof. Vemuganti emphasized the importance of diet diversity and returning to traditional foods, while Sri Kaunteya Dasa shared insights from the implementation of a new breakfast scheme in government schools, highlighting both challenges and successes in incorporating millets into children’s diets. Smt. Divya IAS shared her administrative experience in Vikarabad, discussing efforts to increase millet production and consumption through local initiatives and partnerships, despite challenges related to procurement and processing.

The discussions highlighted the critical importance of millets in ensuring food and nutritional security in India, highlighting the need for concerted efforts in promoting their cultivation, improving processing infrastructure, and incorporating them into public health and nutrition programs. The diverse perspectives offered valuable insights into the challenges and potential strategies for enhancing food security and nutritional outcomes through the promotion of millets and diet diversity.

In the third session, the panel discussion was on “Diversification of diet: How do ICDS, Mid-day Meal Scheme and Urban Canteens Fair?” It was chaired by Prof. E. Revathi, (Director, Centre for Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad and moderated by Prof Phanindra Goyari, (School of Economics, UoH). The panel discussion started with the ICSSR Project Findings Presentation by Prof. G. Sridevi, workshop Coordinator, School of Economics, UoH. The presentation discussed the diversification of diet and how essential the inclusion of Millet in the Diet Menu of ICDS, Mid-Day Meal Scheme and Urban Canteens in Telangana and Karnataka. The presentation started by giving an evident background context of the challenges still pertaining in India related to lower BMI, Stunting, Wasting, and Underweight that most of the children, Pregnant women and lactating mothers in India have been suffering from, even though the per capita income, food grain supply has risen. The project has four objectives-

  1. Address the nutrition issues by incorporating Millet’s importance in the ICDS diet.
  2. Comprehend the beneficiaries of MDMS to diversify their diet by including millets in lunch besides ragi malt.
  3. Identify the perceived level of food and nutrition security that food-providing canteen initiatives the government implements for the vulnerable and poor section of society.
  4. Contemplate the beneficiaries and other agents to diversify their diet by including Millet.

The study includes primary as well as secondary data from NSSO and NFHS. The sample size is 3,288, and her study contains seven chapters. She explained different problems related to staff, food provision and millet inclusion that have been found in the study of Anganwadi of Hyderabad and Bangalore. Availability and consumption of rice and wheat dominate in urban and rural areas. However, including Millet is essential, and the state’s role is important in achieving diet diversification. She has explained some policy implications for the project.

She explained that diet diversification, permanent staff recruitment, and drinking water and infrastructure facilities are needed in the Anganwadi centre. Decentralization of the kitchen, including self-help groups (SHG), universalizing breakfast in schools and including eggs and dried fish are needed in MDMS. For urban canteens, gender disparities should be addressed with economical ways to include millets, improve consumer convenience, and encourage widespread awareness of millets. She concluded her presentation by urging researchers and the government to frame appropriate guidelines, properly mobilize resources, and release funds promptly for the importance of the inclusion of millets in diet diversification.

Following the presentation, field investigators shared their observation while collecting data in Hyderabad and Bangalore. From Hyderabad, Dinesh, Sudheer, Azdhan and from, Bangalore, Bhavana, Gouri and Nivedita, they presented challenges and experiences while surveying. After the field annotations, there was a panel discussion.

Dr A. Amarender Reddy (Joint Director, School of Crop Health Policy Support Research, ICAR-National Institute of Biotic Stress Management, Raipur, Chattisgarh) focused on the challenges of millet production and distribution stating that millets are costly to afford, MSP signaling, irregular supply, storage problem. He stated that a decentralized system could be a way forward to cope with these challenges. Prof. Sujith Kumar Mishra (Regional director (in- charge), Southern Regional Centre, Hyderabad) enlightened that regular monotonous food, very poor health education and cultural/social stigma are there as constraints to overcome. He also stated that the implementation of policies in the social category will improve the situation. Dr. SubbaRao M Gavaravarapu (Scientist ‘F’ & Head, Nutrition Information, Communication & Health Education (Niche), ICMR-NIN, Hyderabad) stated that Millet is one part of diversity and it is not about availability but about acceptability and accommodation. He was concerned about whether there were enough safeguards and facilities and concluded that Millet should be eaten the way it should be eaten. 

Dr. Mehanathan Muthamilarasan (Assistant Professor, Department of Plant Sciences, School of Life Sciences, UoH) stated that every Millet is unique and has some anti-nutrients in Millet. Specific challenges regarding the Millet are that it is not easy to cook, and the taste is also not satisfactory. He said that millets are not the single solution for malnutrition. Dr Bharath Reddy (CEO of Millet Marvels, Hyderabad, and Cardiologist at Apollo Hospitals, Hyderabad) who joined online, supported the inclusion of Millet in diet diversification as it has positive benefits for human health. He urged policymakers and researchers to focus on how to take this forward.

The panel was followed by the valedictory address by Dr. G.V. Ramanjaneyulu (Executive Director, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and Expert Director, Sahaja Aaharam Producer Company, Hyderabad) presided by Prof. K. Laxminarayana (School of Economics, UoH). Dr. Ramanjaneyulu stated that there is a food hierarchy. Millets have many advantages. We should focus on system and factor productivity to address the issues related to millets otherwise it leads to an inequitable support system creating inequality in procurement. Shifting to millets will have environmental benefits like reduced CO2 emissions and water usage. Therefore, a support system is needed, and it should be for conservation, not exploitation.

The panel deliberations suggested that it is important to view millet based food and nutrition security needs to be seen holistically. Isolating it from ecological and livelihood security and ignoring local diversity would not be sustainable.

  • By Prof. Gummadi Sridevi, Workshop Coordinator and faculty, School of Economics