Over 3,600 students enrolled in 55 government-run schools in the Koraput district of Odisha are now enjoying more nutritious mid-day meals featuring finger millet-based meals upma (porridge), khichdi (millet and lentils) and sweet dishes, designed to boost nutritional intake thanks to an innovative collaboration.
The newly inaugurated millet-based secondary food processing unit, initiated by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in partnership with the Odisha Livelihoods Mission (OLM) and the department of mission Shakti in Semiliguda, Koraput, is enhancing the nutritional well-being of children across four gram panchayats – or local self-government bodies in India at the rural level – Talagoluru, Kotia, Ampaballi, and Peteru.
Simultaneously, it has nurtured a vibrant business ecosystem for women entrepreneurs there. Committed to a monthly production of 1,200 kg for each product, the millet processing unit provides cost-effective and nutritious meals to children aged 5-15. This initiative broadens their nutritional choices beyond traditional rice, pulses, soybean, and egg-based meals.
During the inauguration ceremony held at the government high school in Ampaballi on the 11th September 2023, Pitam Padhi, member of the legislative assembly, Odisha, commended the initiative.
“Finger Millet is grown extensively in Koraput and has long served as a dietary staple in tribal communities in this region. This initiative represents a significant effort to reconnect with our heritage while encouraging healthier dietary choices among our children” said Padhi.
After trying a sweet millet dish, a student named Raja expressed his delight, calling it delicious and unlike any millet-based product he had ever tasted. As the initiative gains momentum, the state government aims to further its reach and assist more students in the Koraput district.
Jacqueline Hughes, director general of ICRISAT, praised the collaboration for its contribution to improving economic opportunities and enhancing children’s nutrition. “As we mark the International Year of millets 2023, this initiative stands as a beacon of success, bolstering local economies and kindling optimism within millet-growing tribal farmers, women entrepreneurs, and schoolchildren. Beyond fortifying school meal programs, it charts a course towards a healthier and more prosperous future for the region” said Hughes.
Revolutionizing nutrition with convenience
ICRISAT has scientifically validated and developed three ready-to-cook finger millet-based products enriched with other nourishing ingredients such as foxtail millet, groundnut, pulses, and jaggery, offering a well-balanced and nutritious dietary option.
“Utilizing innovative millet processing technologies ensures that these products are not only calorie-dense but also optimize the absorption of minerals and vitamins. They are easily digestible and, most importantly, appealing to children,” said Saikat Mazumdar, cluster leader, nutrition, dietary behavior, and smart food, ICRISAT.
Moreover, both ready-to-cook traditional and finger millet-based khichdi, upma, and sweet meals can be conveniently prepared in just 15 minutes by adding water and boiling.
Boosting Millet Cultivation
ML Jat, global research program director, resilient farm and food systems, ICRISAT said that for building resilience and nutritional security, there is a renewed emphasis on the cultivation of millets globally.
“The Government of Odisha is promoting millets through its dedicated millet mission. By harnessing entrepreneurship opportunities within local communities through millet-based secondary food processing units, we aim to stimulate local demand for millets, thereby fostering increased millet cultivation within the state,” said Jat.
Uplifting Rural Livelihoods
Earlier in August, Ranendra Pratap Swain, agriculture minister of Odisha, visited the unit and commended ICRISAT‘s efforts to uplift rural livelihoods. Swain assured support for the unit’s success and said that a steady stream of orders for millet-based food products would be important to realize the full potential of such a state-of-the-art processing unit.