By Nicole Suares
A bowl of thick nachni porridge for breakfast was common in Goa a few decades ago. Zonal Agricultural Officer, Bardez, Sampati Dhargalkar, like the rest of us, recalls having tizan, bhakri, ambil as part of her childhood diet.
In contrast, her daughter, she says, “prefers muffins, polle or sweet dosa.”
Modern breakfast foods such as cornflakes, muesli and oats have replaced the nutritious grain today.
In order to bring back the popularity of the forgotten staple, the UN has earmarked 2023 as the International Year of Millets. The Department of Agriculture is on a mission to bolster its production in Goa after a steep decline to 20 hectares under cultivation.
The recent Nachneachem Fest, curated by Goa’s festakar, Marius Fernandes, was one of the many unique initiatives to return the nachni to Goa’s soil.
THE STORY SO FAR…
Traditionally, Goa grows two varieties of millets – nachni (or finger millet) and vari (or proso Millet), shares Miguel Braganza. Since it is tolerant to water stress, unlike rice paddy, you find it grown in the hillsides or marginal lands, explains Miguel.
Internationally, millet is also grown in several Asian and African countries such as China, Japan, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, apart from India. Braganza points out more than fifty villages in the Medak district of Andhra Pradesh (now Telangana) have become rice-mukht and rely on their traditional millets.
In Goa, along with tizan, we enjoy ladoos, and even papad made from ragi, today. The health benefits abound from being gluten-free with a low glycaemic index. Back in the day, pregnant mothers were given a nutritious dose of nachchem satva to gain strength.
Braganza also shares that the Deccan Development Society, Hyderabad, has proved that a millet diet can free consumers from health problems, especially dental and orthopaedic.
Commercialization and promotion of other high-yielding crops, such as paddy, made the once popular food vanish off our tables.
In the past year, timely intervention by the Department of Agriculture could arrest the change. Additionally, efforts like the International Year of Millets 2023 are an aid in that direction.
Director, Director of Agriculture, Nevil Alphonso says, “As the nodal department, we are concerned about increasing the area under cultivation, creating a market for the product, and raising awareness of the nutritive aspects of millet in daily life.”
The collaborative exercise involves the cooperation from all departments like Health, Education, FDA, RDA, etc.
He explains, “Each team works on its programs. We told the Education Department to include a dish made of millet in the mid-day meal. We informed government departments to have millet snacks in their canteens. The FDA is doing it with their ‘Eat Right Mela.’ The Health Department, in consultation, with their dieticians will add millet to the diets of patients.”
Along with conventional methods to disseminate information via leaflets, talks, Krishi Melas and media, the dynamic department swapped their corporate wear for festive garments and dancing shoes for their float titled ‘Grow Millet, Eat Millets, Stay Healthy,’ during the Carnival in February 2023.
Forty five officers participated in the Panjim and Margao floats, led by the Director.
When asked about the innovative approach, Alphonso explains, “Our mandate is to reach out to farmers, disseminate various technologies, schemes, practices and programs. Instead of a conventional way, we opted for a cultural route.
Lakhs attend the yearly floats, so you don’t have to organize a hall, snacks, etc. Since it's our duty, as officers, to reach out to the people, we thought to dance in the float.”
In May, the department is getting set to host a state-level millet mela. Elaborating about the plans, he says, “We invited other agencies from outside to inform our farmers about the status of millets in other parts of the country. It will also include scientist-farmer interactions, demonstrations from the Indian Institute of Millet Research in Hyderabad, and technical talks on teaching farmers how to cultivate ragi professionally.”
Let’s cheer to good health with our bowls of nachni porridge like in the old days!