Millets have been a foundation for food security in India for millennia, particularly for historically-marginalised populations in semi-arid and hilly areas. Today, India is the world’s largest producer of millets although wheat and rice have displaced millets in Indian diets over the last several decades. The last few years have witnessed a major shift in the perception of millets as low-status foods to climate-resilient, nutritious cereals, culminating in the 2023 International Year of the Millet.
Awareness of the health and environmental benefits of millet consumption has grown enormously in upper echelons of urban society, raising possibilities to benefit millet producers.
Based on field surveys of farmers in eastern Madhya Pradesh, the potential for the millet bonanza to contribute to climate-resilience, nutrition security, and robust rural economies requires actions from NGOs, communities, and policy-makers that address realities on the ground. Such actions include shortening supply chains, overcoming labour-intensive processing, and ensuring that financial returns accrue to local communities.
About the Speaker
Ruth DeFries is a professor of ecology and sustainable development at Columbia University in New York and co-founding dean of the Columbia Climate School. She uses images from satellites and field surveys to examine how the world’s demands for food and other resources are changing land use throughout the tropics.
Her research aims to contribute to realistic pathways for people and nature to thrive. A particular geographic focus is central India, which is globally important for tiger conservation and a hotspot for climate impacts on vulnerable populations. DeFries was elected as a member of the U S National Academy of Sciences, one of the country’s highest scientific honours, received a MacArthur “genius” award, and is the recipient of many other honours for her scientific research.
In addition to over 200 scientific papers, she is committed to communicating the nuances and complexities of sustainable development to popular audiences through her books The Big Ratchet: How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis and What Would Nature Do?: A Guide for Our Uncertain Times.
About the Moderator
Harini Nagendra is a faculty member at Azim Premji University, where she leads the Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability. Her research focuses on social-ecological transformations in South Asia.
Nagendra received a 2013 Elinor Ostrom Senior Scholar award for her research and practice on urban commons. Her 2016 book Nature in the City: Bengaluru in the Past, Present, and Future examines the implications of environmental change for cities of the global South. Her latest book, The Bangalore Detectives Club is a historical detective novel based in 1920s colonial Bangalore.