Field Notes: Time to Revive Millets in Bundelkhand (A Perspective)

Harsha G Kurup, Young Professional – RRA Network | June 4, 2020

Agrarian crisis, resource depletion, distress migration, stagnant income- livelihood security for small and marginal farmers needs an ecologically sustainable and economically sound solution.

Kodo millet
Kodo millet (Panna district, Madhya Pradesh – Photo Courtesy by Harsha G Kurup

Decline of Millets

Bundelkhand, a semi-arid region situated in Central India has been known for poverty and poor Human Development Indicators. Dismal state of health, education, malnutrition, resource depletion cum degradation and stagnant incomes are key concerns plaguing the region.

Traditionally farmers in the MP Bundelkhand region used to cultivate a diverse set of crops including millets in their fields. Millets provided nutrition and security from drought. But shift to mono-cropping and commercial cultivation led to increase in cropping of wheat and mentha and decline in nutri-cereals such as millets.

As of today, very few farmers are growing small millets in Bundelkhand. Jowar and Bajra are found in some parts of MP-Bundelkhand but small millets have been nearly wiped out over the past 30-40 years. Older farmers in the region can’t remember when they left millets and the younger generation can barely identify them. “Harvesting and processing is a challenge which is why many farmers don’t cultivate millets”. The consumption is limited to family and hence traditional implements like Kuneta, okhli and moosar are used to process the grains which are time and energy consuming.

Crisis through decades: the new normal for Bundelkhand

The reduction in dietary diversity and consumption of nutri-cereals (millets) has reflected in the health indicators of the region. The state of health in the region is disappointing as can be seen from the figures (Table 1). The levels of stunting among children indicate towards poor outreach of nutrition programmes as well as food insecurity in the region.

Table 1: Status of Health across MP-Bundelkhand region

District IMR Health Index Underweight Wasting Stunting HDI
Chhatarpur 63 0.389 48.3 21.9 45.9 0.425
Damoh 71 0.305 42.9 26.6 39.5 0.437
Datia 73 0.284 59.6 21.1 66.7 0.443
Panna 85 0.158 50.3 29 42.1 0.347
Sagar 69 0.326 48.3 19.2 61.5 0.466
Tikamgarh 61 0.411 49.7 23.1 45.7 0.412
Source: Reproduced from Human Development Report, UNDP,2012

Emerging Water Crises in MP-Bundelkhand Region

The intensity and frequency of draughts has increased in the past two decades. In a study conducted by NIDM, it was seen that some of the districts experienced drought nearly 8 times in 12 observed years [1] from 1998-2009. Only three districts in MP-Bundelkhand are irrigated and rest are rain-fed. Groundwater levels in some districts have reached alarming levels. This is making commercial crop cultivation and water guzzling crop cultivation more untenable in the region. Adoption of crops which need less water is need of the hour.

Post COVID Scenario

Monsoon is coming. With debilitating effects of COVID-19, this is going to be a tough season. COVID-19 has dried up farmers pockets. Due to economic collapse, markets will take some time to recover. Perhaps food crops are best bet for farmers in the coming Kharif season.

WHO has recommended that in lieu of COVID-19, Governments should promote food systems that help in building immunity of the population.

Here millets, with their high micronutrient presence can play a key role. There are many progressive farmers who are still continuing millet farming. Arjan singh is one of them.

Seeds of Hope: Arjan Singh from Panna District

“I sow both millets and rice. Rice guarantees me income while millet takes care of my food and nutrition needs” says Arjan Singh, a tribal farmer in Panna district. Pointing to his field, he says “Kodo can grow anywhere. I just need to broadcast it. Without any fertilizers, it grows. I apply some organic manure only”. “Eating kodo” says Arjan Singh, “gave me energy and strength. I have never visited a hospital in my lifetime for any disease”.

Multi-stakeholder Engagement

Building on experiences of farmers such as Arjan Singh, Civil Society organisations working in Bundlekhand can engage with communities to take up millet cultivation. Work can begin by documentation of knowledge base on millets. Consistent engagement on promotion of millets can have multiple benefits for region like Bundelkhand. Millets can have positive effect on health of farmers and make them less susceptible to drought. They can also address the need of fodder and also mitigate water stress to certain extent.

Bundelkhand needs to revive millets to address the natural resource depletion and malnutrition in the region.

For Contact Details,
If you want to connect with Ms. Harsha G Kurup, you can contact her on Mobile: 8587872705 / Email:

[1] Gupta, A. K., Nair, S.S., Ghosh, O., Singh, A. and Dey, S. (2014). Bundelkhand Drought: Retrospective Analysis and Way Ahead. National Institute of Disaster Management, New Delhi, Page 148

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