On Saturday, Nirmala Sitharaman, the Finance Minister of India, announced the “Millet Challenge” for startups. The competition will award three winners with a seed grant of Rs 1 crore each to create innovative solutions for and across the millets value chain.
In addition, she declared that the University of Agricultural Sciences in Raichur would receive Rs 25 crore from NABARD’s Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF) to build a Millet Value Chain Park, an incubation centre for processing, value addition, and capacity building to promote millets.
The Finance Minister of India made these remarks in Raichur at the Millet Conclave 2022, which was hosted by the Atal Innovation Mission (AIM), the University of Agricultural Sciences, and the National Agricultural Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).
“Within a week or ten days, I will have the NITI Aayog announce a challenge for startups, all focusing on millet, millet-related matters, and that challenge will be thrown open to anyone who wants to participate, including young minds who want to be associated with startups to take up the challenge and provide solutions through innovative ways,” she said.
Seed grants of Rs 1 crore each will be awarded to three winners of the Millet Challenge, along with Rs 20 lakh to fifteen other candidates and Rs 10 lakh to fifteen more candidates, adding that the winner announcement will take place before December.
The Minister also suggested that a brand be developed for the economically disadvantaged Kalyana Karnataka region, and she urged large millet-processing companies to target this area.
“Just as Kodagu and Araku are synonymous with coffee, so too is Kalyana Karnataka with millet. Branding and marketing of that calibre should be a regular practise. In light of the growing demand for nutritious alternatives to traditional fast food, I encourage young businesses to partner with the kinds of corporations that can help export Indian millets to every country, “she added.
Sitharaman also voiced concern over a report indicating a decline of roughly 60% of land under cultivation of millets, and this in a state that provides an incentive of Rs 10,000 per acre for growing millets.
“In all seriousness, someone needs to turn up with an explanation as to why this is happening. Is it just the market or something else, we need to know that,” she told reporters.
The Finance Minister remarked that Karnataka is a major player in the millet industry, and she went on to say that India is the world’s largest producer and fifth-largest exporter of millets.
She mentioned seven factors, including nutritional security, Atmanirbhar Bharat, women’s participation, the potential for value addition, the creation of jobs, the hospitability of the business climate for startups, and climate resilience, to support her claim that more effort should be put into millet production.