Strategies to capitalize on existing networks and initiatives, and brainstorming ‘game changers’ to alter the image of millets was the main focus of discussion at the recently held Smart Foods workshop. The overall aim was to develop approaches to bring more attention to Smart Foods – foods like millets that are highly nutritious as well as being good for the environment and important for overcoming food insecurity.

Research for development (R4D) funding for millets is extremely low compared to other crops and is primarily directed towards developing the supply system. The funding available for supporting initiatives to create a demand-side pull is meagre.

Communications and product development are key components to achieve this.

Communications specialists from across seven African countries and India along with a wide spectrum of participants from government, NGOs, foundations, universities and research organizations worked together over five days to tackle these challenges. They identified communication channels and initiatives that already existed in their organizations that could be tapped into at minimal cost. This ranged from, for example, training courses, social media, farmer field days, radio shows and newsletters. New initiatives were also brainstormed that could be a game changer for the industry.

Given this background, workshop participants focused on how to raise awareness as well as build a new image for millets as a modern exciting food.

ICRISAT Director General Dr William Dar addressed the participants stressing the importance of Smart Foods like millets that are critical for addressing malnutrition problems, as well as their strong resilience to dry and hot climates and small water footprint. During a panel discussion on what the media and extension agencies would need from a Smart Foods campaign Dr G M Subba Rao, Assistant Director, Extension & Training, National Institute of Nutrition, shared his experiences. He said, “It is a fallacy to think that malnutrition exists only in rural areas. When we try to make changes on a large scale it doesn’t work. What we have found effective is to do it in pockets of customized areas and then scale up this method.”

Mr G Chandrashekhar, Commodities Editor, The Hindu Business Line, noted the untapped potential of millets in what he calls the four Fs – food, fodder, fuels (biofuels) and fermentation. He also stressed that food habits are changing with rising incomes, international travel, raised awareness levels through media, internet, etc. “We need to capitalize on these to popularize smart foods like millets. The explosion of fast foods is driven by younger people and Western foods have become fashionable. This is difficult to change and influences the rural diet patterns as well. We need to incorporate millets into Western foods as well – bring millets into burgers and pizzas,” he said.

Inputs on opportunities and challenges were received from millet processors. One major issue was differences in the quality of grains from season to season.

This gave rise to problems during processing and manufacturing. They pointed out that more research was needed to increase the shelf-life of the grains and flour since the time period from grain procurement to purchase of manufactured product by the end consumer is typically six months.

As processors they noted that they are confused which millets are best for which type of processing – an area where information gathering and further research could assist. Dr Subba Rao pointed out that a lot of good research is done as part of the PhD requirement of students studying nutrition. This literature needs to be gathered and made available to the industry.

Other feedback from industry included that the only way to attract the customer is through taste – tasty products with the nutrients in it. Participants discussed that although many people know that millets are nutritious they but do not know how to cook them and are also not comfortable using millets in their daily diet. This is a major hindrance.

The workshop concluded with ideas on what can be a game changer for millets and how to capture the imagination of the people.

Representatives from partner research organisations National Institute of Nutrition; industry – Ind-millet Foods, Mathesis Engineers Pvt Ltd, Isa Millets; NGOs – Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and DHAN Foundation; and communications focal points from partner organization of the HOPE project – Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR); National Agricultural Research Organisation (NaSARRI); Lake Chad Research Institute (LCRI); Ahmadu Bello University; Selian Agricultural Research Institute (SARI); and Institut de l’Environement et de Recherches Agricoles (INERA) participated in the workshop held at ICRISAT-India from 10-14 November.

Another little known advantage of millets are the wide variety of ways it can be prepared. Throughout the week the participants sampled these.

Source: ICRISAT Happenings