India’s Major Crops: Coarse Cereals

Coarse cereals are a broad sub-group of several short duration warm weather (Kharif) crops such as Jowar (Sorghum), Bajra (Pearl Millet), Maize, Ragi (Finger Millet) etc. They are used in food, fodder, fuel; value added products and also fast food products.

Cultivation of Coarse Cereals

In our country, the coarse cereals are mainly grown in poor agroclimatic regions, particularly rainfed areas of the country. These crops are grown in areas with high temperature and are called dryland crops because can be grown in areas with 50-100 cm rainfall. These crops are less sensitive to soil deficiencies and can be grown in inferior alluvial or loamy soil.

Currently, India holds 4th position in the world in coarse cereal production after USA, China & Brazil but the amount produced is only 3.6% of the global coarse cereal production. As per 2016 figures, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh are the top coarse cereal producer states of India.

Trends in Consumption Pattern of Coarse Cereals

Coarse cereals like sorghum (Jowar), pearl millet (bajra), finger millet (ragi) and other coarse staples like maize, barley, oats had been traditionally an important component of Indian food basket. Regrettably, they have been gradually edged out of the food chain. There are two main reasons behind this:

  • Firstly, coarse cereals are considered to be inferior grainsin comparison to rice and wheat. Rising income of the people led to a change in the consumption pattern and people moved to rice, wheat, pulses and fruits in place of these cereals. It is true that coarse cereals not match rice and wheat in grain quality, but they certainly score over them in terms of nutritional value. They have equivalent protein content to wheat and are richer in vitamin B, iron, calcium, phosphorous and many other key micronutrients. Further, they also serve as gluten-free alternatives to finer cereals which make them alkaline rather than acidic in nature. That is why they are called nutri-cereals and are preferred staple food in many parts of the world and India.
  • Secondly, with the increased government support to wheat and rice both at demand side and supply side led to constriction in the area under coarse cereals. On demand side, government provided cheap wheat and rice under public distribution system while on supply side, it supported wheat and rice via system of minimum support prices.

However, despite of policy neglect, coarse cereals have survived as livestock and bird feed, and growing industrial uses such as for production of starch and alcoholic beverages.

Promotion of Coarse Cereals as Government Policy

Successive governments at the centre have launched initiatives to promote use of coarse cereals mainly because of their nutritious value. Some of these include “Initiative for Nutritional Security through Intensive Millet Promotion (INSIMP)” under Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana and current scheme of nutri-cereals. During the UPA regime, the National Advisory Council (NAC) had also moved a proposal for supply of millet and other coarse cereals through the public distribution system. The key logic is that that millet is nutritious and can bridge the food gap likely to be created in implementation of the food security law. Apart from that the following qualities make a case for promotion of coarse cereals:

  • The coarse cereals require much less water to grow than rice and wheat
  • They can be successfully cultivated in semi arid tropics and poor soils
  • They are more efficient converter of energy and plant nutrients into biomass.
  • Some of them are capable to deliver higher yield per hectare in comparison to whet and rice if there is a proper use of modern farm technology and hybrid seeds.

In summary, coarse cereals have a potential to bring rainfed green revolution in the country provided proper policy is in place.