The Ancient Super Grain That Could Help Feed the World

Once headed for extinction, nutrient-dense millet (باجرا) is now being recognized as a solution to global food problems. The U.N. hopes to encourage more parts of Asia and Africa to replace the “big three”—rice, wheat, and maize (corn), which combined provide the world with more than 50 percent of its calories—with the ancient super grain, millets.

Khasi villagers collect herbs in a field in Nongtraw in northeastern India on Nov. 6, 2015. People there are on the front lines of a battle to preserve regional food varieties, including nutrient-dense millet. (Biju BORO/afp via getty images). Getting to the village involves navigating down 2,500 steep steps. The hourlong descent is one reason the 200 or so people who live deep within the valley where the village lies, all members of the Khasi tribe, rarely travel far from home. Anything from the outside world, including food, must be carried by hand down these 2,500 steps

By Dan Saladino, a BBC journalist specializing in food and farming: For centuries the people (of Khasi tribe) in Nongtraw (in northeastern India) have produced as much of their own food and drink as possible. A tea, sha shia krot, is made from dried roots foraged from the surrounding forest and sipped from bamboo cups. Honey is harvested from bees that nest in tree trunks purposely hollowed out by the villagers. But the most important food of all in this place–that is until recent decades–was millet (باجرا), a grain that is one of the most nutrient-packed foods domesticated by humans.

Long before the Khasi people began growing rice and buying wheat, millet (باجرا) was an essential source of energy, a crop that could be harvested, stored, and ground into flour. Over time, as seeds were saved and passed on through generations of farmers, different types of millets became adapted to the ecosystem around the village: the soil, climate, altitude, and availability of water. Cultural preferences also added to the process of seed selection, with some plants being preferred and then replanted because their seeds had a particular taste, texture, or color. One type of millet that came to be prized above all was called raishan, a creamy-colored grain that the community used to make breads, soups, stews, and biscuits. It was a staple food there until the early 1970s, when, because of global events in the postwar era, raishan, like many other millets across Asia and Africa, became nearly extinct.

The term “millet” (باجرا) covers a huge family of grains produced by a collection of plants that possess small seeds and are mostly grown on marginal land—in other words, places where soil is poor and dry, irrigation might not be possible, and access to markets is difficult. But after decades of neglect, millets are being seen as an important food once more. Last year, following a proposal from the Indian government, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution decreeing that 2023 would be the International Year of Millets, a strategy designed to coordinate agricultural research across continents, spread awareness, and develop market opportunities for farmers and processors. The U.N. hopes to encourage more parts of Asia and Africa to replace the “big three”—rice, wheat, and maize (corn), which combined provide the world with more than 50 percent of its calories—with millets.

“For too long, millets have been seen as a food of poor farmers,” said Jacqueline d’Arros Hughes, the director-general of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, or Icrisat. “Urbanization and poor land management is resulting in the loss of agricultural land. With millets, it’s possible to reclaim degraded dry lands. This makes millets critical in feeding a growing world.” More here.

VIDEO: What Millet Can Do For Your Body

Honorary contributors to DesPardes: Adil Khan, Ajaz Ahmed, Anwar Abbas, Arif Mirza, Aziz Ahmed, Bawar Tawfik, Dr. Razzak Ladha, Dr. Syed M. Ali, G. R. Baloch, Hasham Saddique, Jamil Usman, Jawed Ahmed, Ishaq Saqi, Khalid Sharif, Majid Ahmed, Masroor Ali, Md. Ahmed, Md. Najibullah, Mushtaq Siddiqui,, Mustafa Jivanjee, Nusrat Jamshed, Shahbaz Ali, Shahid Hamza, Shahid Nayeem, Shareer Alam, Syed Ali Ammaar Jafrey, Syed Hamza Gilani, Shaheer Alam, Syed Hasan Javed, Syed M. Ali, Tahir Sohail, Usman Nazir

1 thought on “The Ancient Super Grain That Could Help Feed the World

  1. Excellent food. Bread (chapaati) made by millet( باجرا) is best. Most nutritious,

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