© FAO/ Alessandra Benedetti



India was selected for one of the case study countries because improving access to seeds and varieties and maintaining local diversity are important issues in the current agricultural development and biodiversity strategies of the country. Moreover India is the first country to pass legislation on the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act in 2001. In principle, although not yet in practice, the legislation grants intellectual property rights to a spectrum of plant varieties, including farmers' varieties or landraces. The effect of changing intellectual property regimes on plant variety development and dissemination, especially in the developing world, is yet to be seen. The proposed legislation on seeds are expected to have wider impact on genetic resource policies, specifically the multilateral intellectual property rights regimes being negotiated under the WTO and the recent enactment of Farmers' Rights provision in India.

This project is implemented by the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) with the technical backing of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Crop Selected

Minor millets were selected as the focus crops because of their significant role in dry land farming systems. Minor millets are a group of annual grasses found mainly in arid and semi-arid regions. They are cultivated on 29.1 million hectares in India, accounting for nearly 25 percent of the total acreage under cereal crops. In India’s dry lands, they play a significant role in meeting food and fodder requirements of farming communities. Three species of minor millets—finger, foxtail, and proso or little millet—are widely cultivated. These crops are often classified as “minor or coarse grains” in agricultural statistics. “Minor” refers not only to the smaller size of the grains, but also to their lesser importance in terms of trade and the limited scientific knowledge about them. Despite national-level efforts to collect minor millet germplasm from farmers, research to improve these crops has been negligible. Typically minor millets could be best described as examples of underutilized plant species, being locally important and playing a major role in food security, but commercially traded on a very limited scale outside the producing communities.

Project Site

The sites selected for the study are Kolli Hills and Dharmapuri.

In Kolli Hills, situated in the Namakkal district of Tamil Nadu, a genetically diverse pool of minor millet varieties are grown by the tribal farming communities to meet their subsistence food needs. Most of these minor crops are not traded outside the farming communities, though on a limited scale in the local and urban markets as a result of recent development interventions. Despite a consumption preference among the local farming communities for minor millets, in the recent past the acreage under minor millet crops have declined considerably due to the availability of substitute crops such as cassava, rain fed rice, pineapple and coffee which are exclusively grown for market purposes. The M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, has led targeted conservation cum commercialization intervention programmes over the last 7-8 years in the Kolli hills, with the objectives of 1) increasing the marketing potential of these minor millet crops by adding value to them and 2) helping the farming communities to maintain the existing diversity among the minor millet crops by providing economic incentives for their conservation efforts.

In Dharmapuri, a neighbouring district, characterised by semi-arid, plain conditions, minor millets such as finger and little millet are grown under large acreage with the existence of fairly developed market centers for the grains located in Pennagaram and Harur blocks and Dharmapuri. The farm households also specialize in other grain crops (rice) although minor millets are still considered important for supplementing their food needs. The grains that are traded in the market centers are exported to neighboring states such as Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka and also to North India. The district also has an agricultural research station located in Payyur that conducts research towards the improvement of small millet crops in Tamil Nadu. Thus it is evident that compared to Kolli Hills, in the major millet-producing district of Tamil Nadu namely the plains of Dharmapuri district, markets for grains exist. No well-developed market for seed exists in the area. Sometimes seeds of improved or modern varieties of finger and little millet seeds are provided through either government subsidy programmes or through field demonstrations of agricultural research stations. Also there are no specific or key interventions undertaken as such by any civil or governmental institutions to support marketing of minor millets in the plains.


Selection of site and the crop was completed by June 2006. Farmers' focus group discussions were organized in the months of June-July 2006. Thereafter, the methodology and research designs for three different components of the study: a) market survey, b) household survey and c) value chain analysis were completed. Value chain analysis was undertaken in October-November 2006 in Kolli hills. Market survey and Household survey at Dharmapuri and Household survey at Kolli hills were done between Sept 2006-Aug 2007. Data entry has been completed by December 2007 and efforts for Analysis and production of respective reports based on the surveys are currently being undertaken. Germplasm collected both from Dharmapuri and Kolli Hills is being raised in on-farm trial plot. Data collection and morphometric characterization is being done. A workshop to share results with stakeholders and for policy advocacy and explore the way forward is planned for 2009.