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Women farmers keep alive the cultivation of millet in India

Farmer from MINI partner Agragamee at her finger millet field. Photo by the All-India Millet Sisters Network

This is an interview piece with the Millet Sisters, a group of small-scale women farmers from India.

We are excited to kick off our series of publications on millets in honour of the International Year of Millets (IYM). We are collaborating with the All-India Millet Sisters Network, a dedicated network of women who promote indigenous farming practices, millet cultivation in India, and women’s rights. Our team at SIANI had the opportunity to speak with a group of women farmers from Pastapur, Telangana, India, about their experiences.

Millets are a valuable crop with economic, environmental, and social benefits. These heritage grains have great potential as a sustainable and nutritious food source and are often undervalued. By supporting millet farming, we can improve the livelihoods of small farmers, especially women and their families, by boosting income and ensuring food and nutritional security. Additionally, millets naturally enrich soil by adding nitrogen.

“Compared to the more commonly known cereals such as wheat, rice or corn, millets are capable of growing under drought conditions, under non-irrigated conditions even in very low rainfall regimes, having a low water footprint”, explained Dr Aburto, deputy director in the nutrition and food systems division of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

The All-India Millet Sisters have explained that millets are not a crop but a concept for them and well-suited to dryland farmers in India, as they are naturally adapted to dry conditions. This makes them a suitable crop for regions with limited rainfall. The cultivation of crops depends primarily on the weather and soil conditions. Therefore, farmers cultivate in two seasons: Kharif with millets and the second season Rabi with peas, oats or chickpeas, India produces multiple varieties of millets, such as Pearl Millets, Sorghum, Finger Millet, Foxtail, Kodo, Barnyard, Proso, Little Millet etc. However, these women cultivate millets to keep the traditional cultivation practices alive in their region. Finger millet, unlike minor millet, which is a bit more complex and requires specific equipment, doesn’t require much water to grow, needs very little fertiliser, is rich in protein and can be intercropped.

Mogulamma, one of DDS farmers, showing her seed bank at her house. Photo by the All-India Millet Sisters Network

Forgotten millets for next generation

Millets are humans’ most reliable food crops under a climate change scenario, especially for resource-poor dryland farmers. They are climate change-resistant and help sustain grain production with minimal inputs.

These women produce the same way their parents and great parents did, and they hope the young generation will take up farming.

“There is no formal education in our case, but our knowledge of millets passed down through generations”.

The community also serves the seed banks, facilitating the exchange and storage of local crop varieties.

Agriculture is the primary source of income for 70% of India’s rural households, but the trend is shifting towards industrial and service jobs. This poses a challenge as more young people are leaving rural areas for better job opportunities in the cities and to pursue education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

However, with the Millets Sisters’ work, young people now appreciate the potential of agriculture and are staying with their families to continue the farming legacy. Sons and daughters help their families cultivate these crops, so “they are gaining practical knowledge, so one day they will be taking over”. It’s important to pass on the knowledge and practices of the value of millets among traditional communities. India needs a young and educated generation, which is better prepared to put research into practice to incentivise productive investment in small farm businesses.

India needs well-educated young individuals to invest in agriculture and make it appealing to young people despite the attractions of the cities.

” Strong initiatives to promote a better future of work for young people are critical as the global economy remains fragile and countries are confronted with multiple challenges associated with their green, digital, and demographic transitions.”

ILO report, Global Employment Trends for Youth 2022 (

Bild 2 Millet Seeds in Farmer Arulmozhi’s Hands. Photo by the All-India Millet Sisters Network

Millet, an integral part of Indian food

Millets have regained popularity in India after falling out of favour for many years. It is essential to recognise the benefits of consuming millets from an individual’s perspective. Various initiatives are being implemented to bring millets back into the mainstream, such as school programmes that raise awareness of their value and promote regular consumption, introducing millet crops in the Indian Army, and enabling different recipes and cooking styles. Additionally, millets have medicinal benefits, such as reducing the risk of developing diabetes. Recent studies have explored the potential health advantages of consuming millets, which the All-India Millet Sisters highlight. These farmers remember how millets boost metabolism and regulate body temperature, for example, these group of women mentioned “after working in the field at home we eat a finger millet porridge, and our body temperature is kept at an optimum level”. Millets have been an integral part of Indian cuisine for centuries and “we would like to continue working millets in our farms and plates”.

Farmer from MINI partner Agragamee at her millet field in the village Renga. Photo by the All-India Millet Sisters Network

“Regular consumption of millets translates into better post prandial blood glucose and better HbA1c levels. Millets mitigates atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) risk by lowering insulin resistance, better glycaemic control, lowering non high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, lowering BP and by virtue of presence of various antioxidants.”1 

Millets have been a part of the Indian diet for centuries, but changes in consumption patterns and dietary habits have led to a decline in their use. However, the declaration of 2023 as the (IYM aims to promote the future of millets as a food source and their contribution to food security and nutrition. India faces a complex challenge of nutritional insecurity, with 16.3% of the population experiencing undernourishment in 2019-21 and nearly 70.5% unable to afford a healthy diet, according to The State of Food Security and Nutrition (SOFI).  The IYM is hoped to bring attention to millets’ nutritional and health benefits in addressing these challenges.

Increasing millet consumption can benefit smallholder farmers and their livelihoods. Therefore, in the absence of guaranteed safety for maritime grain shipments, is it time to consider alternatives to rice and wheat?


  1. Sandeep Kumar, Narendra Kotwal, Millets (Shrianna) and lifestyle diseases: A healing touch,Medical Journal Armed Forces India,Volume 79, Issue 3,2023,Pages 249-252,ISSN 0377-1237,

To gain a better understanding of a group of small-scale women farmers from 15 organisations in India who practice organic millet farming and promote women’s empowerment, you can refer to the booklet “Stories from The Millet Sisters”. This booklet showcases the work, lives, and sisterhood of the women belonging to the Indian Millet Sisters network, and was produced as a result of a four-month internship at the Deccan Development Society in Pastapur, India.


These interviews are part of SIANI’s ‘Tune in to Food Systems’ interview series composed of monthly interview articles with experts across fields dedicated to sustainable food systems.