The Story of Millets


The Story of Millets was published by the Karnataka State Department of Agriculture and the ICAR - Indian Institute of Millets Research, Hyderabad in 2018. It has been compiled and edited by B. Venkatesh Bhat, B. Dayakar Rao and Vilas A. Tonapi from ICAR-Indian Institute of Millets Research. The book provides comprehensive information on millets, including nutritional and health benefits, history of origin and domestication. 

Millets are a group of small-grained cereal food crops with high nutritional value. They can be cultivated in marginal or low fertility soils with minimal use of inputs like fertilizers and pesticides. These crops, the book notes, play a significant role in ensuring food and nutritional security for India. The book highlights research done on millets, and hopes to promote the crop for “sustainable agriculture and healthy society”. 

The 124-page document is divided into13 sections: Understanding millets (Section 1); Millets are powerhouses of nutrition (Section 2); The Origins of Millets (Section 3); Journey of Millets (Section 4); History of Millets in India (Section 5); Millets Today (Section 6); Millets in India (Section 7); Millets are Least-demanding and Most Sustainable Crops (Section 8); Utilization of Millets (Section 9); Research on Millets- Indian Scenario (Section 10); The Fall and Rise of Millets (Section 11); Millets in Karnataka (Section 12); and Millets were the first crops; Millets are the future crops (Section 13).


  1. Most millets are short-duration crops, with proso millet maturing in 60–70 days and kodo and finger millets in 100–130 days. Their early maturation, low water needs, and drought tolerance makes them ideal for mitigating drought. Millets rapidly recover from abiotic stresses like drought and heat, making them a promising food source amid climate change. Their small seed size, low seed requirements, and high grain yield under harsh conditions are beneficial for multiple and emergency cropping. Even the stover after harvest of millets is utilized as fodder to animals and bird feed.

  2. Primary millets are sorghum (jowar) and pearl millet (bajra). Minor millets include finger millet (ragi/mandua), foxtail millet (kangni/Italian millet), little millet (kutki), kodo millet, barnyard millet (sawan/jhangora), proso millet (cheena/common millet), and brown top millet (korale). 

  3. Small millets typically grow well in warm weather and depend on rainfall. They are often associated with summer moisture systems such as the South Asian monsoons. Most millet cultivation occurs in the kharif period.

  4. Millets reduce diabetes risk, prevent constipation, lower cholesterol, and calm moods. They are gluten-free and non-allergenic. 

  5. Millets have been found in early archaeological plant remains worldwide, were staples in diets of ancient Indian, Chinese Neolithic, and Korean Mumun societies. They were integrated with other crops to create diverse "multi-crop" systems, ensuring food security and extending growing seasons for ancient populations. 

  6. In India, sorghum is extensively cultivated in north-western, western, and central regions. It is classified based on use into grain sorghums, forage sorghums, sweet sorghums, and Broomcorn. Sweet sorghum is used for sorghum syrup, jaggery, and ethanol production. 

  7. Sorghum is a major supplier of green and dry fodder in India, crucial during lean winter and summer months, providing 20-60 per cent of dry fodder in semi-arid areas. Foxtail millet is often grown alongside sorghum on black cotton soils during low rainfall. Proso millet is a short-duration irrigated crop with low moisture needs and has the highest protein content at 12.5 per cent. 

  8. Fonio millet belongs to the same class of superfoods as quinoa, tef, and chia seeds. It is gluten-free and abundant in amino acids, which are frequently lacking in other primary cereals. 

  9. The annual per capita consumption of sorghum decreased by 75 per cent in urban areas and 87 per cent in rural areas between 1972-73 and 2011-12. This decline is attributed to the shift in dietary patterns of consumption which leans towards livestock products, fruits and vegetables. Millets are a low value grain also due to factors like low profitability compared to other crops, insufficient input subsidies and price incentives, subsidized supply of other cereals through the Public Distribution System (PDS). Consequently, there has been a shift from millet production to other competing crops such as soybean, maize, cotton, sugarcane, and sunflower nationwide.

  10. There has been a sharp decline – about 50-60 per cent – in millets production in India after green revolution. The Government of India stated the Initiative for Nutritional Security through Intensive Millets Promotion (INSIMP) in April 2011 with a budget of Rs 300 Crores to promote millet across 10 states known for millet cultivation.

  11. Karnataka is a top producer and consumer of millets in India, with finger millet, sorghum, and pearl millet as primary crops. The book notes that inorder to boost millet production and consumption, the state government has been offering seed subsidies and higher bonus prices for government procurement which attempts to ensure profitability for farmers.

    Focus and Factoids by Arunima Mandwariya. 

    PARI Library’s health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.


Karnataka State Department of Agriculture and the ICAR - Indian Institute of Millets Research, Hyderabad


Karnataka State Department of Agriculture and the ICAR - Indian Institute of Millets Research, Hyderabad