Will there be enough millets to feed the world?
In my post a few days ago, I had presented my arguments as to why we should start including millets in our diets. Almost everyone who works on agriculture and food systems recognizes and acknowledges that given the changing climate and rainfall patterns, in the not too distant future, we will not have sufficient paddy rice and wheat to feed the world if we continue down the track we are on. There are quite a few solutions that people are working on to mitigate this impending disaster. And from many perspectives, bringing millets back into our diets as a staple grain is the best way forward. But there are repeated Qs on whether we will have enough grains to feed the world if the whole world started eating millets.
We can answer our primary question by considering the following two Qs:
- what quantity of millet rice needs to be consumed to provide the same nutrition and make a person feel full after eating millets instead of paddy rice?
- on how much land can millets be grown on as compared to paddy?
The first Q has been answered in another recent post I wrote a few months ago on satiety index of millets. So, millet rice(s) adding up to about two thirds the quantity of paddy rice would be sufficient to feed as many people as are surviving on paddy rice.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, dept. of economics and stats, the average yield of paddy is about 2.2 tons / hectare. We do not have similar statistics for millets. But from experience, we can say that at the bare minimum, the average yield for millets is about 800 to a 1000 kgs/hectare. Lets take the more conservative estimate (0.8 tons/hec) and to keep the math simple lets round this ratio to a third.
So taking into account the answer to one and these yield numbers, we end up with needing millets to be cultivated over at least twice the area as paddy is currently being cultivated over.
Even after the many thousands of crores that India has invested in irrigation, the land area on which paddy can be cultivated is less than 20% of the total cultivable area. Given how little millets demand of the soil, finding twice the area under paddy cultivation to cultivate millets on, is very much achievable.
So even with existing technology (seeds, practices, etc.), cultivating millets we can meet the food and nutritional requirements that paddy currently provides. Please note that I am not making the case for replacing paddy completely with millets, either at a food systems or at an individual level. I have considered the extreme situation to state my case.
Once we recognize that bringing back millets on the farms and in our diets is inevitable, a lot of smart minds can and will be brought in to work on millet cultivation and processing. Hopefully the lessons learned from the green revolution will not be forgotten and we shall be smart enough to not fall into the same trap of ‘increase yield at all costs’ approach. Time will tell.
We do have a personal role to play in how this pans out. We must insist on policies that encourage sustainable farming methods and disincentivize chemical and energy intensive unsustainable practices.