The International Crop Research Institute have joined forces to advance climate-resilient and nutritionally enhanced food systems through the Assam Millet Mission

The International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Government of Assam, India, have joined forces to advance climate-resilient and nutritionally enhanced food systems through the Assam Millet Mission.

At the heart of the partnership is Assam’s goal of boosting the cultivation, production and consumption of three native millet crops: Finger millet (Maruadhan), Foxtail millet (Kaun), and Proso millet (Cheena Bajra).

Presently, millets are only cultivated across 6,000 hectares of land in 15 districts of Assam, including Nagaon, Bongaigaon, and Dhubri, contributing 97 per cent of the State’s millet production.

Given Assam’s susceptibility to floods and its historical preference for rice over millets, there’s a growing imperative to transition toward diversified agriculture that incorporates resilient and nutritious millets.

Director General of ICRISAT Dr Jacqueline Hughes, lauded the partnership and hailed the Millet Mission as pioneering, particularly considering the region’s limited history of millet consumption.

“As the world’s largest millet producer and a driving force behind the International Year of Millets 2023, India stands at the forefront of the resurgence of millets.

“ICRISAT is delighted to contribute its deep expertise in millet research to complement Assam’s visionary approach and ambitious millet consumption targets,” said Dr Hughes.

The project will commence by introducing three millet types grown in Assam and will continue along the value chain to include:

empowering stakeholders through extensive training in various areas, such as farming practices, seed production, and food safety management; developing and implementing a strategic plan to promote the marketing and export of millets and millet-based products from Assam; and developing and introducing scientifically validated nutritious millet-based recipes, ready-to-eat (RTE) and ready-to-cook (RTC) food products, adapted to local taste preferences, into the Prime Ministers’ PM-POSHAN Scheme (mid-day meal scheme for children in government primary and upper primary schools, and Anganwadis or government-funded child and mother care development centres.

Revolutionizing Millet Cultivation

ICRISAT is also collaborating with the Assam Agriculture University (AAU), private seed companies, and more than 7,000 smallholder farmers to enhance millet seed and associated production systems.

Researchers are utilising modern breeding and genetic tools to ensure seed purity and quality. They are also exploring new breeding materials suited for millet farming in Assam.

Mr Baljeet Singh, Market Analyst at the coordinating agency of the project – the Assam Rural Infrastructure and Agricultural Services Society (ARIAS), highlighted the invaluable expertise that ICRISAT brings to the mission.

“Our partnership with ICRISAT will undoubtedly catalyze the evolution of dryland agriculture in Assam, resulting in enriched lives and thriving smallholder millet farmers,” said Mr. Singh.

Nurturing Nutritional Security

Dr Saikat Datta Mazumdar, Cluster Leader, Nutrition, Dietary Behavior, and Smart Food at ICRISAT, highlighted the Institute’s use of innovative technologies to overcome the ‘inter-generational cycle of malnutrition’ and enhance the nutritional values of mid-day meals at schools and supplementary nutrition meals at Anganwadi centres.

He stressed the importance of increasing awareness about the health benefits of millet and recipe preparation among mothers and Anganwadi workers in the region. He noted that these innovations will significantly benefit children and women – boosting millet consumption and food security, particularly in rural households in the State.

A Flourishing Millet Industry

The newly forged partnership reflects ICRISAT’s unwavering dedication to enhancing the millet value chain in Assam.

This commitment encompasses evaluating market opportunities, formulating marketing and export strategies, and pinpointing consumer demographics and product offerings tailored for both local and international markets.

Dr Victor-Afari Sefa, Global Research Program Director, Enabling Systems Transformation, ICRISAT, concluded, “ICRISAT brings a rich pool of multidisciplinary knowledge and expertise to elevate the millet value chain in Assam, towards offering significant nutritional benefits and laying the foundation for a more resilient future for the region.”

About the Project:
The Assam Millet Mission (AMM) is part of the World Bank-funded Assam Agribusiness & Rural Transformation Project (APART). The Assam Rural Infrastructure and Agricultural Services (ARIAS) Society is overseeing the project, while ICRISAT is providing technical consultancy services to support AMM under APART for approximately 18 months.

The objective of the Assam Agribusiness and Rural Transformation Project for India is to ‘add value and improve resilience of selected agriculture value chains, focusing on smallholder farmers and agro-entrepreneurs in targeted districts of Assam’. There are four components to the project, the first component being enabling agri-enterprise development.

The objective of this component is to enable investments in agri-enterprises, improve investment environment and promote investment, reduce business and transaction costs, facilitate access to finance for agribusiness MSMEs, and, where appropriate, facilitate process and regulatory changes. The second component is the facilitating agro cluster development. The objective of this component is to enhance competitiveness of agri-enterprises in specific geographic clusters, and upgrade infrastructure for agricultural trade, in these clusters to enable producers and other value chain participants to access new markets.

This will be achieved by: mobilizing proximate agri-enterprises, in identified geographic clusters, into Industry Associations (IAs), and building their capacity to undertake joint actions; supporting development of and financing for Agro Industrial Development Plans (AIDPs) laying out joint actions that can be undertaken by IAs to enhance competitiveness; providing a range of Business Development Services to scale up agri-enterprises in the selected clusters; and upgrading and modernizing warehouses, agricultural wholesale markets and rural periodic markets in the cluster, including link roads. The third component is the fostering market-led production and resilience enhancement. The objective of this component is to enable producers of the priority value chains, in the targeted clusters, to take advantage of the rapidly changing market demand, and enhance resilience of agriculture production systems for increasing production and managing risks associated with climate change.

Finally, the fourth component is the project management, monitoring and learning. This component will also finance dedicated staffing for the project activities, consultancies, training and related material, office equipment, and incremental operational costs. The project will provide investment and technical support for the establishment of a sound management information system and information and communication technology (ICT) systems and capacity strengthening of key personnel.

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