Karnataka govt gives the humble millet a big basket


To promote organic farming and millets, the Karnataka government has tied up with online grocery platform BigBasket.

Krishna Byre Gowda samples dishes made of millets.

If you’ve lived in Bengaluru for more than a year, you'll probably have your own ragi ‘mudde’ story. Consuming this nutrient-packed ragi millet steamed ball, which gives local farmers horse-power energy for hard work, is a rite of passage.     

Agreed that you may not be able to find this on the Swiggy menu. When I last searched, it gave me a compliment saying I had a “very unique taste” and that I should try searching again with a different keyword. And there lies the problem. You cannot search for it by any other name. Ragi 'mudde' is ragi 'mudde'. Period.

To be honest, I came to know of ragi mudde only when I arrived in the city 20 years ago. The canteen of the local daily that I worked in served it once a week. Of course, there was an alternative for the ‘outsiders’ to opt for chapati instead. However, some of us persisted but we found ourselves biting off more than we could chew, literally.

Our indulgent co-lunchers would then come to our rescue and issue instructions which went like this: “Break a small piece of the mudde, dip it in the sambhar curry and gently swallow it instead of chewing it.” While someone else would say, “No, no, first put the mudde piece in your mouth and follow it up with a spoonful of the curry.” And so it went on, until we had acquired a taste for it.

Let’s millet

If you are curious and looking for a place that serves this dish, do not sweat. All you need to do is head to the Organics and Millets, 2017, National Trade Fair, being inaugurated today at the Palace Grounds in the city.

The brainchild of Karnataka agriculture minister Krishna Byre Gowda, the campaign for organic farming and millets has been in the making for the past year-and-a-half. The trade fair is not only an attempt to generate awareness about this group of cereal crop with urban dwellers, but also make it profitable for the farmers to grow them.

The golden millet in the fields.

“Today, people are talking about sustainable living, but it starts with sustainable agriculture,” Byre Gowda tells YourStory. This holistic farm-to-home approach is what the State government is aiming at. “People are battling lifestyle-related diseases and ailments. And most of it is due to our modern-day diet,” he states. Gluten-rich and refined produce are often the cause of obesity and diabetes.

However, healthy living comes at a cost. A kilo of, say, organic foxtail millet costs anywhere between Rs 60 and Rs 80. People end up paying nearly 50-percent more on organic produce. The irony is that crops like millets are hardy and can grow with less water in marginal lands, and with very low investment.

Two birds with one stone

Why, then, do they cost so much more for the end consumer? One hypothesis is that they do not offer any profit for agro-chemical corporations and large food companies. The promotion of rice and wheat, which lend themselves to high investments in machinery, hybrid seeds, fertilizers, pesticides etc., are a much more lucrative economic strategy.

The millet campaign thus aims to kill two birds with one stone, in a manner of speaking. Adds Byre Gowda,

“We want to create a demand so that more and more farmers take to its cultivation. This not only takes care of our natural resources like water and pollution-free farming, it also adds to the health of the people.” 

In a move to ensure that the consumer gets the best produce at a low price, the government is tying up with online groceries platform BigBasket. 

Agriculture minister Krishna Byre Gowda

Over the past few years, Byre Gowda’s ministry has been working with farmers in the State to form federation of organic farmers. “When we spoke to retailers, we realised that they faced a lot of challenges to source organic produce from individual farmers. Organising the individual farmers into federation has solved this issue,” says the minister, terming this a win-win for consumer, retailers, and farmers.

Bigger basket

BigBasket has tied up with three such federations across the State. It will procure approximately 500 metric tons of millets valued at Rs 2.50 crore from Davangere and Chitradurga Organic Farmers Federations. The third federation, Uttara Kannada District Organic Farmers Federation, will supply organic spices to the tune of approximately 300 metric tons valued at Rs 12 crore. This deal will benefit the farmer groups to obtain a price gain to the tune of 15-20 percent over and above the prevalent market prices.

Talking to YourStory, CEO and Co-founder Hari Menon says, “We will train the farmers in grading, sorting, quality check, and packaging. The product will be co-branded under the BigBasket and the specific farmer federation.”

At present, BigBasket has around 25 collection centres across the country where local farmers send their produce to be graded, sorted for quality and then packaged to the consumers. With this 

Hari Menon, Co-Founder & CEO of BigBasket.

deal, the online store plans to make the three federations collection centres so that the farmers can be involved in the quality checks and packaging.

“The demand for organic produce has increased on our site,” says Hari. According to him, earlier, the percentage of organic produce sold on the platform was around four to five percent, it is now close to 20 percent. “We have seven collection centres dedicated only to organic produce,” he adds.

Mudde treat

Byre Gowda has been working to bring retailers on board for the past six months, and agrees that the first deal with a startup was a good start. “No doubt, being a new-age tech company, they are more open to innovating, and we are glad to have tied up with BigBasket,” he says, adding that they are in talks with other traditional businesses as well.

The minister reveals that the seed for the organic farming and millets campaign was in reality sown some years ago when he realised the area where he had grown up in was in a state of decay. “I grew up in Kolar district and being the agriculture minister, it was very distressing to see the land waste away,” he adds.

Having been raised on a staple of ragi mudde at home, Byre Gowda’s mudde story is indeed remarkable. How many can claim that the journey of the mudde on their plate has accumulated so many karma points?


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