Every year in December and early January, I get lots of letters from friends and family updating me on their news for the past year. Most are only of interest to friends and family. But this year, news in one of these e-mailed letters could make a huge difference to tens, maybe hundred of millions of people in India.
“It was a year that took me to great heights of happiness when India passed a brand new Act called National Food Security Act which for the first time in our history recognised millets as food security grains of the country and put them firmly in India’s Public Food system”, wrote P. V. Satheesh, from Pastapur village, about 100km from Hyderabad, on the Deccan Plateau in Andhra Pradesh.
“…for the dalit peasant women who constitute the DDS family,” says Satheesh, “this was truly historic. They had, with grit and determination, overcome their total social, economic and gender marginalisation and had reshaped a national policy through a determined struggle.”
The Africa – India Millet Network was also born in 2013, which will build on the work the Millet Network of India (MINI), which has worked for a decade to bring millets into India’s public food system, ending the exclusive focus on rice and wheat.
Some of the film makers and radio station broadcasters
I was lucky enough to be able to visit some of these wonderful illiterate, dalit women who form the core of the Deccan Development Society and the Community Media Trust a few years ago. You can see a film they made about millets called “Millets: The Miracle Grains at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvHLPzb2e6A.
Enjoying a millet based meal in a dedicated millet restaurant in nearby town where you can also buy organic millet seed
The challenge now, says Satheesh, is to start a process of decentralised procurement of food grains to ensure small farmers benefit from this change. They don’t want to see supply of millets captured by corporations that become the sole contractors for supplying millets to government granaries. As a start they have been invited to begin a pilot in decentralised procurement and distribution by the government in the southern state of Karnataka in two districts where Ragi and Jowar are popular millets. I’m hoping next year’s letter will tell of their success in this pilot and be the beginning of a decentralised, localised food system for India in which the poorest farmers will benefit most.
[Photos from my 2009 visit]