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Millet revolution begins churning in TN

Friday, 12 August 2016
Nivedhika Krishnan

 Chennai: In 1998, Foodoo Catering got orders only from 10-15 members for the millet delicacies they prepared. But now, it runs to 100-115 per day. That is not surprising given the popularity millets have gained among the public.

R Haripriya, who owns Foodoo Catering in Coimbatore that makes only millet sweets and savouries, says the young and upwardly mobile order from her outfit. She takes orders from Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai and sells raw materials to Chennai and Bangalore.

Aiming to cater to the growing popularity of millets (kuduravali, saamai, thinai, varagu, kelvaragu, panivaragu, kambu, cholam) the Tamilnadu government has announced a fillip in the recent State budget for farmers growing millets in the dry areas of the State. 

It is observed that the changing global food system has redefined the gastronomical likes of Indians and in due course, a few grains belonging to India's own land were eclipsed for no reason. 

A long time back, food was prepared with available ingredients found within 100 miles, but this was greatly altered after the Green Revolution, accompanied by other factors, including globalisation.

In a way, we failed to take care of our own grains which are now available, but at exorbitant rates, says millet producer Sentamizhan. Millets are not available for anything less than Rs 100 per kg in the local market due to its non-availability.

Saravanan Varadarajan of Iyal, a store that stocks organic produce in Chennai, says, 'We started our establishment two-and-a-half years back. Since then, the demand for millets has increased gradually. In the beginning, we sold 100 kg per month. Now, it has gone up to 400 kg for a month.'

About the initiative, he says, 'Although the popularity of millets has grown tremendously, it requires good marketing skills to sell it among the masses. The current awareness will not help farmers to sustain it in the longer run.'  

'Some 30 years back, a few propagated the idea that millet is consumed by people belonging to the lower strata of society,' says Sentamizhan, who cultivates millets in Thanjavur. 'The idea behind it was to promote rice among the consumers,' he explains.

'It is a welcome move from the government and surely a positive sign for farmers as the demand for the grain has scaled up considerably. Promoting 'nattu vethai' (local seeds) over high-breed seeds would work in favour of the overall food system,' feels Sentamizhan.

WHY MILLETS? * Millets are one of the oldest foods known to human being and probably the first cereal grain to be used for domestic purposes. * Millets grow well in dry zones as rain-fed crops, under marginal conditions of soil fertility and moisture.  * Millets have short growing season and get ready for harvest in as little as 65 days. * When properly stored, whole millets will keep for two or more years.

MILLET DELICACIES * Thinai used for  murukku, payasam and kheer * Varagu used for variety rice including sambar rice, lemon rice, tamarind rice * Kudiravali for curd rice, coridander rice, tomato rice and dosa batter * Saamai for milagu pongal, biriyani  * Panivaragu for dosa and pal paniyaram * Kelvaragu is kali, malt, halwa and laddu

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