Change in dietary preferences, rapid urbanisation, growing demand for processed foods and poor procurement price have scaled down production of small grains, especially pearl millet and shrunk the area under cultivation sharply in the district in the last decade.
But now, the same change in food habits, people growing more health conscious and realising the importance of consuming nutritious food have increased the demand for small grains and thereby encouraged progressive farmers to start cultivating pearl millet.
The Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Gandhigram Rural Institute, has been encouraging such farmers by offering quality hybrid seeds, extending technologies and assistance to raise pearl millet.
Once a poor man’s staple food, pearl millet was forgotten even by people in the rural areas. The area under cultivation has been dwindling year after year owing to poor returns to farmers. Now, the total area under cultivation of pearl millet in the district is just 902 hectares. It was 2,038 hectares three years ago and 15,278 hectares, a decade ago, says Dr. Udayakumar, Programme Coordinator (incharge), KVK.
Now, this coarse grain has been gaining popularity among rural and urban people, thanks to growing health awareness.
To promote pearl millet, the KVK has distributed seeds of high yielding variety to a group of farmers at Marambadi panchayat. Now, growth and ear head size of the crop is impressive. The height of the plant is also over six feet. The length and girth of the ear head and high tillering indicate that the yield will be around 1,500 to 2,000 kg, says A Arockiam, who has raised pearl millet in half an acre at Perikulathupatti village at Marambadi Panchayat.
“Marketing is not an issue. Present procurement price is Rs.30 a kg. I can sell them locally. Production cost is also very less because I reduce the use of fertilizers to the minimum and increase organic manure to enrich soil and plants. Water requirement for irrigation is also less. Previously, I had raised fox tail millet (Thinai) and sold it to the Agriculture Department. With adoption of new technologies and crop management practices, I hope that the yield will be more,” he says.
Low investment and better procurement price will certainly rope in more farmers towards cultivating Cumbu. The KVK will encourage more farmers to take up pearl millet cultivation, the coordinator added.