Millets: Forgotten then found

Community seed banks in India help diversify crops to revive biodiversity and improve nutrition

Millets grow well in Bihar, a state in eastern India, but farmers stopped cultivating the crop and lost its seeds. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) funds a project that reintroduced millets and other crops through community seed banks and on-farm trials.

©FAO/Pankaj Paul


Once again, it hasn’t rained enough in the monsoon season in Bihar, an eastern state of India. The wells have gone dry, and 27-year-old Pudi Soren has to travel to the riverside to grow crops, such as chickpeas and rice, that provide necessary calories and sustenance in the winter months.

One crop that she can plant near her home in this season is finger millet. Finger millet doesn’t require a lot of water to grow. It needs very little fertilizer, and it is full of protein.

“We have forgotten about some crops,” says Pudi. “When we were children, we saw crops such as finger millets too, but people stopped their cultivation for many years.”

Over the past two decades, communities in central and eastern Indian states had largely abandoned the cultivation of oilseeds, pulses and small grains such as millets due to trends and other pressures. This led to a loss of the seeds and knowledge of how to grow them. But the decline in their cultivation has contributed to serious malnutrition and loss of genetic diversity in the area.

Pudi recently started growing these crops again from seeds she initially received from a Benefit-sharing Fund project in India, administered by the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and implemented by the non-profit organisation, Public Advocacy Initiatives for Rights and Values in India.

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