1. Infusing life into millets
India which constitutes 65% of the Indian agricultural geography. For centuries, the poor people of India, such as Dalits and adivasis, have been cultivating millets. It has been an integrated part of their culture, food system and agriculture. Millets are the crops of the poor, since they can be cultivated on dry land, with almost no water and input. They are also very nutritious and are therefore contributing to a better health for poor people. However, during the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, rice and wheat were promoted together with a range of pesticides and fertilisers. With these methods poverty was supposed to be fought. The consequences have been decline in the soil fertility and a dependency of external inputs for poor farmers.
2. Conserving Millet cultivation
Due to the Green Revolution, the cultivation of millets declined, meaning a loss in the knowledge possessed by poor Dalit and adivasi communities all over India. It is in this context that the Network promotes Millet not just as a ‘crops’ but as a ‘concept’, that represents a development ethics of inclusive, democratic and decentralised food and farming system across different agro-ecological regions in India. These are the grains that people use in dozens of rites of worship and to celebrate births, weddings, deaths and other rituals. Furthermore, millets constitute a great tradition of knowledge-based agriculture. Women are the reservoirs of this knowledge and hence the promotion of millets is promotion of women’s knowledge. Safeguarding and acknowledging the cultural heritage and knowledge system of the millet growing communities especially women is the primary principle for the network. Endorsing this principle enables members to be guided through approaches, when adopted, eventually promote environmental and human well-being.
3. Enhancing and encouraging to build strong millet communities
Fostering mutual learning and sharing of community knowledge in promoting millet based biodiversity farming systems for the health and vitality of the future generations is a means to reclaim food sovereignty. Recognise that Millet based mixed farming systems are critical areas in a landscape which need to be appropriately conserved and managed under the stewardship of the local communities.In identifying and acknowledging the heritage of the millet communities, the following key features of the millet based mixed farming are promoted:
a. Millet based biodiversity farming systems are endemic and each agro-ecological region has diversity of species and varieties evolved by the community and are the heritage of the community;
b. These farmlands/ landscape-level areas of community managed millet based cropping system areas along with producing valuable food and fodder, provide basic ecosystem services in fragile habitats, such as erosion control on relatively infertile shallow soils, hill slopes and hill tops, low water retention soils, dessert and semi-arid conditions and rainfed regions;
c. Recognise that millet based farming system areas, apart from social and cultural values have environmental values, such as carbon storage and sequestration, water supply stabilization, biodiversity conservation and defence against impacts of climate change and more;
d. These areas are critical to local communities’ traditional cultural identities, which not only are ecologically significant but vital to their rural micro economy.
e. These areas in spite of policy level neglect, on shear initiatives and knowledge of the community there areas continue to fundamental in meeting basic needs of local communities such as sustainable and healthy heavens of food and farming systems;
4. Millet Consumption
Food consumers, especially the urban middle classes, have started jumping on to the bandwagon of millets. A new understanding of health gains to be made from the millet consumption has occupied the urban mindscape in recent years. However, alongside this realization, this mindscape also has been crowded by a number of preposterous theories which do not show any understanding of the millet farming and its relationship with food ecology. The new theology that divides millets into superior foods and neutral foods not only creates confusion in the minds of a majority of middleclass consumers but also runs against the very grain of the biodiverse agricultural systems of which the millets are an integral part. MINI working with very small women farmers who have been heroically cultivating millets in their palm sized farms has learnt from them how their millet agriculture is an expression of a profound philosophy of their worldview of life itself.