Bengaluru: After a gap of nearly three years, the Karnataka government will re-introduce ragi, or finger millet, in its Public Distribution System (PDS) this year, as part of an effort to promote the production and consumption of the grain.

The stated aim is to bridge the nutritional gap, mitigate the impact of failing rains, promote sustainable agriculture and stabilise farmers’ incomes.

Considered a drought-resistant crop, ragi is being promoted as a long-term solution to Karnataka’s perennial water distress.

With failing rains and waters from two important rivers—Cauvery and Mahadayi—entangled in disputes with other states, the Karnataka government is hoping that farmers will take up alternatives to water-intensive crops like paddy and sugarcane.

Ragi will be distributed as part of the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government’s flagship programme, Anna Bhagya (free rice), and will be available to beneficiaries in south Karnataka, where the millet is consumed widely. The state government initiated the procurement of ragi about a week ago and the exercise will continue for another month.

“When we close the procurement, it takes about a month for government of India to give us permission; only then, after March, we can actually put it in PDS," Krishna Byre Gowda, Karnataka’s minister for agriculture said.

Under the popular Anna Bhagya scheme, every beneficiary is given seven kilos of foodgrains a month. In July last year, the state government decided to add tur (lentils which have high protein content) to the scheme, The Times of India reported.

Ragi, with higher nutritional value than Rice, is also being promoted with a public health message. The government is also looking to introduce jowar into PDS for the northern part of the state. Gowda said ragi would be procured at Rs2,300 per quintal as against the market price of around Rs1,600. This includes a bonus of Rs400 from last year to encourage farmers to start growing the crop.

Farmers from south Karnataka have refused to switch from paddy and sugarcane to ragi despite the government’s efforts.

The government had even stopped the distribution of paddy seeds in Mandy—considered the heartland of farmer activism in the state—but with little impact.

Dr Prabhakar, project coordinator of the All India Coordinated Research Project on Small Millets, says farmers may be reluctant to switch as the yields are lower compared to paddy. However, he argues that what ragi lacks in yields, the government is trying to match with price and insulate the farmers from the kind of agrarian crisis the state has faced in the four preceding years.

According to agriculture experts, an acre of paddy produces about 35-40 quintals as against 6-7 quintals of ragi. The cost of producing paddy is about Rs2,000 per quintal as against ragi’s Rs3000 per quintal—reasons used by farmers to explain their reluctance to make the switch.

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