Written by Elena ValeriotePhotography and video by Alberto Mitiin collaboration with Dr. ED Israel Oliver King, MSSRF
THE SUN HAS JUST STARTED TO RISE as Mrs. Malarkodi walks down the main road of Semmedu, a small but lively village in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. She stops in front of a narrow shop wedged in amongst the other crowded, colorful businesses that spill out onto the dusty sidewalk. The sound of honking horns and the aroma of fresh spices permeate the air, but Malarkodi hardly notices them as she unlocks and lifts the metal shutter, removes her shoes, and passes under the mango leaves that hang over the Kolli Hills Natural Food Shop’s entryway as a symbol of good luck.
Malarkodi works here several days a week stocking the narrow store’s green bookshelves, which are laden with neatly packaged products bearing the Kolli Hills Natural Food Shop label. She dutifully organizes the bags filled with typical Indian spice mixes that can be found on one side of the shop, but it is with great pride that she arranges the other packages. These contain eleven varieties of flour mixes, all made with small millets.
For Malarkodi and many local women, life revolves around this underappreciated grain, just as it did for their mothers and grandmothers; however, while small millets once drained the energy of the women who farmed them, today they are a source of empowerment.
Small millets are one of the oldest cultivated crops in the world and have long been a part of traditional regional diets across India, but over the last half century they’ve been pushed by farmers in favor of less-intensive cash crops such as rice, coffee, cassava, and peppercorn.
Even when they are farmed on small land patches, small millets require enormous amounts of physical labor. Women are responsible for millet planting, harvesting, and cooking. In fact, these grains are known as the “women’s crop” in Tamil, the language spoken in Tamil Nadu.
Small millets are deeply ingrained in Indian culture, but they could not compete with the new and improved crop varieties that emerged during the Green Revolution of the 1960s. Around this time, geneticist Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan (who came to be known as the Father of the Green Revolution in India) encouraged Indian farmers to use high-yielding modern varieties of rice and wheat. While Swaminathan believed that these crops would help feed hungry and impoverished Indians, he also worried about potential consequences for both the land and the people who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. IN 1988, several decades after pioneering the monoculture movement, Swaminathan founded the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) with the intention of restoring traditional farming practices in India and protecting its rich agrobiodiversity.
IF IT WERE NOT FOR PROFESSOR M.S. SWAMINATHAN and Dr. Israel Oliver King, there would likely be no Kolli Hills Natural Food Shop and no employment for Malarkodi other than the unrelenting work of farming and processing her own small millets, in addition to feeding and caring for her family.
King arrived in Kolli Hills in 1997 as a partner of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation. An ethnobotanist, he specializes in understanding the interactions between plants and people, expertise that led him to recognize the irreplaceable cultural, economic, ecological, and nutritional value of small millets for the Malayali, an indigenous group of small-scale farmers living in Tamil Nadu. Recognizing that small millet varieties native to the region were on the verge of extinction, King developed a plan to protect them for the wellbeing of the local community and the local ecosystem.
Until recently, farming in Kolli Hills was solitary work. Local small millet seed varieties survived solely by individual farmers making the effort to conserve them for personal use. King encouraged the farmers of Kolli Hills to join together in self help groups that ultimately led to the formation of the Kolli Hills AgroBiodiversity Conservers Federation (KHABCoFED) to manage and distribute small millet seeds through fifteen newly-appointed Village Millet Resource Centers across the region.
The Federation carefully selected twenty-one landraces belonging to five millet species (finger millet, little millet, foxtail millet, proso millet, and kodo millet) based on specific criteria: crop yield, climate resilience and flavor. By focusing on both yield and resilience, KHABCoFED could guarantee that a diverse array of small millets would survive and thrive, even in the face of hardships brought on by changing weather patterns and evolving markets. Small millets, which can be grown on difficult terrain and even enrich the soil, are naturally hardy and enhance the resilience of the community around them.
Amongst the special small millet varieties chosen by the Federation is a kind of finger millet submitted by the Malarkodi family. They are proud to be amongst the Federation’s “Custodian Farmers,” who save, collect, store and share the Federation’s seeds.
The Centers also offer educational opportunities focused on small millets to train new and existing Custodian Farmers. Curriculum draws on both traditional and modern practices and is an essential part of a holistic value chain approach based on the Federation’s concept of “the four C’s”: conservation, cultivation, commercialization, and consumption.
WHEN THE FEDERATION WAS FIRST ESTABLISHED, Malarkodi was an adolescent. Until that point, she had been destined to follow a path that mirrored generations of Indian women before her. Her days were to be occupied by farmwork and household chores. She rose early each morning and headed out to her mother’s small millet fields. Come harvest time, they would manually collect the small millets, taking care not to lose seeds from their delicate clusters.
Threshing and dehusking removed the seeds’ hard outer layers, a process that required the use of a heavy pestle and mortar. Then came cleaning and milling. Even after the last grains were ground into flour, there was always more work in the fields or in the kitchen. Malarkodi was left with neither time nor energy to consider pursuing a profession outside the borders of her family’s land.
But the Federation opened up a new path for Malarkodi and countless other Malayali women. With the support of the MSSRF, the Federation supplied Kolli Hills with machines that would complete much of the post-harvest processing of small millets. They also offered technical training to Malarkodi and other local women so they could operate the processing center’s production machinery. By learning these skills and getting access to the right tools, these women were able to pursue other opportunities that the Federation helped to create for their communities.
TODAY, MALARKODI IS ONE OF 537 MALAYALI WOMEN in the Federation. Their work contributes to growing a market for small millets that reaches well beyond Kolli Hills.
When Malarkodi finishes grinding her small millets into flour at the processing center, she takes home a portion for her home kitchen, which she will later cook for her family. With the remaining flour, she heads to the nearby Millet Value Addition Center.
In addition to being trained to use millet-milling machines, Malarkodi also participated in a course centered on techniques for adding value to millet-based products. At the Center, she helps oversee product development, quality control, packaging, labeling, and marketing of her products, which include single-ingredient small millet flours and ready-made small millet flour mixes that appeal to Indian mothers who want fast and healthy cooking options to feed their children.
As an entrepreneur with in-depth knowledge of every aspect of her business’ value chain, Malarkodi earns a livelihood for herself and her family while also upholding historic food and agricultural traditions for the benefit of her community.
MALARKODI ONCE FARMED SMALL MILLETS exclusively for her household; that very short supply chain now extends to small food businesses. They have begun to see value in small millets, which now appear on restaurant menus in the region.
To keep up with the growing demand, Malarkodi divides her days between farming, processing, and selling her small millets at the Kolli Hills Natural Food Shop. A few times a week, a distributor visits the shop to pick up large orders for chefs and food startups that have found inspiration in these versatile grains, using them in sweet treats, such as millet pudding with fragrant green cardamom, and savory sides like dosa with coconut chutney.
As a result of the “Millet Revolution”—which is directly linked to the active role of the MSSRF and farmers of the Federation in Kolli Hills—small millet production in the area has increased by twenty percent while farmers’ incomes have risen by twenty-five percent.
Though once marginalized and undervalued in India, small millets and women farmers have finally been given the support they need to grow. Together, they have demonstrated their immense capacity to benefit the Malayali people and to serve as a model for healthier, more sustainable, and more resilient regional food systems everywhere.
by Joanna Kane-Potaka, ICRISAT
INDIA IS WITNESSING A GROUNDSWELL OF SUPPORT for ancient grains. It’s both a movement led by farmers who recognize the amazing value of millets as a smart food and a national initiative with the Indian government leading the charge to support the UN’s International Year of Millets.
Millets are also highly useful for improving children’s diets. The first scientific study about a millet-based school feeding program was released in December 2019. Chefs and nutritionists designed healthy, tasty meals for 1,500 adolescent children in 2 schools. An equal number in a control group was fed standard meals featuring iron-fortified rice and sambar (a legume stew). The initial results were clear. After only three months, children receiving millets grew 50% more than those in the control group. Researchers then did something radical: they substituted white rice with millet: the kids loved it.
The top three micronutrient deficiencies children face are iron, zinc, and vitamin A. Most millets are high in iron and zinc; in fact, they can provide the same amount of iron as chicken, even when accounting for its bioavailability. Although the absorption of plant-based iron is less than its meat-based counterpart, iron levels are so high in some millets that they can serve as a major source of iron and studies have shown it can also reduce anemia.
Millet provides an abundance of health benefits. With India soon to have the most cases of diabetes in the world, a key message from Indian doctors to their pre-diabetic or diabetic patients has emerged: eat less white rice and return to traditional staples like millet.
Legumes are the most commonly known plant-based source of protein and are particularly important in largely-vegetarian countries like India. A recently published study analyzed the protein in millets and showed that while legumes have good protein levels of protein, they lack a complete protein, as they are low in one essential amino acid—methionine—which millets have. When combined with legumes, millets can provide a complete, highly-digestible protein, unlike white rice, refined wheat, and maize.
Finally, while often hailed as the next quinoa, millets may show even greater promise as they can grow across nearly every continent. Not only is this ancient grain a superfood—gluten-free, high in antioxidants, high in fiber, low glycaemic index, and good for losing weight—it’s also environmentally sustainable and climate-smart, befitting its description of being good for you, good for the planet and good for the farmer.
by Katelyn Mann of The Lexicon
edited by Israel Oliver King of M.S. Swaminathan
Research Foundation (MSSRF)
The name “millets” refers to a variety of grasses with small seeds that are grown throughout the world as crops for animal fodder and human consumption, especially across Asia and Africa. While all millets are members of the Poaceae, grass, family, there are a number of subfamilies and different genera that all hold millet species. As a plant that uses C4 photosynthesis, millet is adapted to grow in hot summer months with little water.
Millets have been a staple in human diets for over 7,000 years, especially in semi-arid tropical regions of Africa and Asia. For example, for hundreds of years in western India sorghum and millet flour have been used to hand roll the local staple, the flat bread roti. Millet porridge, sweet and savory, is a popular dish in Germany, Russia, and China. Millet is popped and mixed with a sweet syrup or honey to form bars, a popular snack in Osaka, Japan. Millet is fermented and/or distilled to create a number of beers and alcohols in India and Nepal. Millet is often added to seed mixes in bread or crackers. Millet consumption is growing in popularity around the world as a gluten-free alternative to wheat.
Millet is a nutritious grain high in dietary fiber and gluten-free. Millets contain 7-12g protein per 100g of raw grain, depending on the millet species, placing them in a similar protein range as wheat and significantly higher than rice or maize. In addition to significant protein and carbohydrate levels, millets contain important essential fatty acids. Millets are a good source of multiple types of Vitamin Bs, as well as iron, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus. Polyphenols in millets are known to promote a low glycaemic index, helping reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Millet is prized for its ability to grow in hot and dry conditions with a short growing season. The vast majority (97%) of millet production takes place in the semi-arid tropics of India, Mali, Nigeria and Niger. Millets are adaptable and resilient to drought and poor soils. The reliability of millet in poor growing conditions compared to other grains has made millet a major crop in Saharan countries of western Africa and drought-stricken regions of southeast Asia. Despite these adaptations, if provided good soil health and moisture, millet can produce 2-4 times more grain per hectare. A few African countries collaborate on the breeding and sharing of improved breeds of millet to enhance yields. Millets are increasingly important crops as climate change increases marginal land, and the need to grow nutritious crops in poor conditions grows.
Millet is a broad definition, encompassing many different small-seeded grass crops within the Poaceae family. Due to this breadth, millets evolved all over the world from wild ancestors such as barnyard grass and panic grass into species used for human consumption. Different species are native to different regions throughout Africa and Asia, allowing adaptation to place and wide distribution. Millets have characterized the human diet for over 7,000 years and there is evidence to suggest consumption of the grain over 10,000 years ago in Asia. The crop may have been a cause of the initial transition to stationary farming societies. Paleoethnobotanists, archaeologists who research diet and crop usage, have found evidence to suggest that the cultivation and consumption of millet shadowed that of rice in prehistoric diets of China and Korea. Millets had made their way into European consumption and agricultural production by 5000 B.C.E.
Millet cultivation in marginal and drought-stricken land, as well as development of varieties with increased adaptation and yield, is an important and expanding area of research as the knowledge of millet as a resilient and nutritious crop grows.
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Providing best water quality conditions to ensure optimal living condition for growth, breeding and other physiological needs
Water quality is sourced from natural seawater with dependency on the tidal system. Water is treated to adjust pH and alkalinity before stocking.
Producers that own and manages the farm operating under small-scale farming model with limited input, investment which leads to low to medium production yield
All 1,149 of our farmers in both regencies are smallholder farmers who operate with low stocking density, traditional ponds, and no use of any other intensification technology.
Safe working conditions — cleanliness, lighting, equipment, paid overtime, hazard safety, etc. — happen when businesses conduct workplace safety audits and invest in the wellbeing of their employees
Company ensure implementation of safe working conditions by applying representative of workers to health and safety and conduct regular health and safety training. The practices are proven by ASIC standards’ implementation
Implementation of farming operations, management and trading that impact positively to community wellbeing and sustainable better way of living
The company works with local stakeholders and local governments to create support for farmers and the farming community in increasing resilience. Our farming community is empowered by local stakeholders continuously to maintain a long generation of farmers.
Freezing seafood rapidly when it is at peak freshness to ensure a higher quality and longer lasting product
Our harvests are immediately frozen with ice flakes in layers in cool boxes. Boxes are equipped with paper records and coding for traceability. We ensure that our harvests are processed with the utmost care at <-18 degrees Celsius.
Sourcing plant based ingredients, like soy, from producers that do not destroy forests to increase their growing area and produce fish feed ingredients
With adjacent locations to mangroves and coastal areas, our farmers and company are committed to no deforestation at any scale. Mangrove rehabilitation and replantation are conducted every year in collaboration with local authorities. Our farms are not established in protected habitats and have not resulted from deforestation activity since the beginning of our establishment.
Implement only natural feeds grown in water for aquatic animal’s feed without use of commercial feed
Our black tiger shrimps are not fed using commercial feed. The system is zero input and depends fully on natural feed grown in the pond. Our farmers use organic fertilizer and probiotics to enhance the water quality.
Enhance biodiversity through integration of nature conservation and food production without negative impact to surrounding ecosysytem
As our practices are natural, organic, and zero input, farms coexist with surrounding biodiversity which increases the volume of polyculture and mangrove coverage area. Farmers’ groups, along with the company, conduct regular benthic assessments, river cleaning, and mangrove planting.
THE TERM “MOONSHOT” IS OFTEN USED TO DESCRIBE an initiative that goes beyond the confines of the present by transforming our greatest aspirations into reality, but the story of a moonshot isn’t that of a single rocket. In fact, the Apollo program that put Neil Armstrong on the moon was actually preceded by the Gemini program, which in a two-year span rapidly put ten rockets into space. This “accelerated” process — with a new mission nearly every 2-3 months — allowed NASA to rapidly iterate, validate their findings and learn from their mistakes. Telemetry. Propulsion. Re-entry. Each mission helped NASA build and test a new piece of the puzzle.
The program also had its fair share of creative challenges, especially at the outset, as the urgency of the task at hand required that the roadmap for getting to the moon be written in parallel with the rapid pace of Gemini missions. Through it all, the NASA teams never lost sight of their ultimate goal, and the teams finally aligned on their shared responsibilities. Within three years of Gemini’s conclusion, a man did walk on the moon.
FACT is a food systems solutions activator that assesses the current food landscape, engages with key influencers, identifies trends, surveys innovative work and creates greater visibility for ideas and practices with the potential to shift key food and agricultural paradigms.
Each activator focuses on a single moonshot; instead of producing white papers, policy briefs or peer-reviewed articles, these teams design and implement blueprints for action. At the end of each activator, their work is released to the public and open-sourced.
As with any rapid iteration process, many of our activators re-assess their initial plans and pivot to address new challenges along the way. Still, one thing has remained constant: their conviction that by working together and pooling their knowledge and resources, they can create a multiplier effect to more rapidly activate change.
Who can enter and how selections are made.
A Greener Blue is a global call to action that is open to individuals and teams from all over the world. Below is a non-exhaustive list of subjects the initiative targets.
To apply, prospective participants will need to fill out the form on the website, by filling out each part of it. Applications left incomplete or containing information that is not complete enough will receive a low score and have less chance of being admitted to the storytelling lab.
Nonprofit organizations, communities of fishers and fish farmers and companies that are seeking a closer partnership or special support can also apply by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org and interacting with the members of our team.
Special attention will be given to the section of the form regarding the stories that the applicants want to tell and the reasons for participating. All proposals for stories regarding small-scale or artisanal fishers or aquaculturists, communities of artisanal fishers or aquaculturists, and workers in different steps of the seafood value chain will be considered.
Stories should show the important role that these figures play in building a more sustainable seafood system. To help with this narrative, the initiative has identified 10 principles that define a more sustainable seafood system. These can be viewed on the initiative’s website and they state:
Seafood is sustainable when:
Proposed stories should show one or more of these principles in practice.
Applications are open from the 28th of June to the 15th of August 2022. There will be 50 selected applicants who will be granted access to The Lexicon’s Total Storytelling Lab. These 50 applicants will be asked to accept and sign a learning agreement and acceptance of participation document with which they agree to respect The Lexicon’s code of conduct.
The first part of the lab will take place online between August the 22nd and August the 26th and focus on training participants on the foundation of storytelling, supporting them to create a production plan, and aligning all of them around a shared vision.
Based on their motivation, quality of the story, geography, and participation in the online Lab, a selected group of participants will be gifted a GoPro camera offered to the program by GoPro For A Change. Participants who are selected to receive the GoPro camera will need to sign an acceptance and usage agreement.
The second part of the Storytelling Lab will consist of a production period in which each participant will be supported in the production of their own story. This period goes from August 26th to October 13th. Each participant will have the opportunity to access special mentorship from an international network of storytellers and seafood experts who will help them build their story. The Lexicon also provides editors, animators, and graphic designers to support participants with more technical skills.
The final deadline to submit the stories is the 14th of October. Participants will be able to both submit complete edited stories, or footage accompanied by a storyboard to be assembled by The Lexicon’s team.
All applicants who will exhibit conduct and behavior that is contrary to The Lexicon’s code of conduct will be automatically disqualified. This includes applicants proposing stories that openly discriminate against a social or ethnic group, advocate for a political group, incite violence against any group, or incite to commit crimes of any kind.
All submissions must be the entrant’s original work. Submissions must not infringe upon the trademark, copyright, moral rights, intellectual rights, or rights of privacy of any entity or person.
Participants will retain the copyrights to their work while also granting access to The Lexicon and the other partners of the initiative to share their contributions as part of A Greener Blue Global Storytelling Initiative.
If a potential selected applicant cannot be reached by the team of the Initiative within three (3) working days, using the contact information provided at the time of entry, or if the communication is returned as undeliverable, that potential participant shall forfeit.
Selected applicants will be granted access to an advanced Storytelling Lab taught and facilitated by Douglas Gayeton, award-winning storyteller and information architect, co-founder of The Lexicon. In this course, participants will learn new techniques that will improve their storytelling skills and be able to better communicate their work with a global audience. This skill includes (but is not limited to) how to build a production plan for a documentary, how to find and interact with subjects, and how to shoot a short documentary.
The Lexicon provides video editors, graphic designers, and animators to support the participants to complete their stories.
The submitted stories will be showcased during international and local events, starting from the closing event of the International Year of Fisheries and Aquaculture 2022 in Rome, in January 2023. The authors of the stories will be credited and may be invited to join.
Storytelling lab participation:
Applicants that will be granted access to the storytelling Lab will be evaluated based on the entries they provided in the online form, and in particular:
Applications will be evaluated by a team of 4 judges from The Lexicon, GSSI and the team of IYAFA (Selection committee).
When selecting applications, the call promoters may request additional documentation or interviews both for the purpose of verifying compliance with eligibility requirements and to facilitate proposal evaluation.
Participants to the Storytelling Lab who will be given a GoPro camera will be selected based on:
The evaluation will be carried out by a team of 4 judges from The Lexicon, GSSI and the team of IYAFA (Selection committee).
Incidental expenses and all other costs and expenses which are not specifically listed in these Official Rules but which may be associated with the acceptance, receipt and use of the Storytelling Lab and the camera are solely the responsibility of the respective participants and are not covered by The Lexicon or any of the A Greener Blue partners.
All participants who receive a Camera are required to sign an agreement allowing GoPro for a Cause, The Lexicon and GSSI to utilize the films for A Greener Blue and their promotional purposes. All participants will be required to an agreement to upload their footage into the shared drive of The Lexicon and make the stories, films and images available for The Lexicon and the promoting partners of A Greener Blue.