Lahari Bai, a 27-year-old tribal woman from Madhya Pradesh's Dindori, has emerged as a grassroots brand ambassador for Millets with her 'Beej Bank'.
Lahari remembers how she was often ridiculed by her own Baiga tribal community when she started collecting and conserving Millet seed varieties in her teenage years.
"People ridiculed me and often drove me away, but I had only two missions, one to not marry and serve my parents and the second to conserve millet seeds and promote their farming, as the consumption of millet provides matchless health benefits. Now no one insults me," she said.
Lahari lives with her parents in a kutchaa house. While one room serves both as a living room and a kitchen, the other has been turned into a 'Beej Bank' of Millet crops, which conserves 30-plus rare seeds of different coarse grains.
She also sows them in her field and distributes them free of cost to farmers for cultivation in her village. She has conserved rare varieties of Millets like Madhia, Salhar, Sabha, Kodo, Kutki, Sanwa, Kuttu, and Cheena.
"Our grandmothers used to eat Millets and stay healthy, but now this food has started disappearing. I was told about it, so I started saving them," she said.
Lahari is a known name in Dindori and lives in a dilapidated house. Her family got a gas connection under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, however, given their poor financial condition, they are not able to refill their gas cylinder and are now back to cooking on chulha. Her village also faces water shortages.
"I want a pucca house, but I don't have money. We have to go a long way to fetch water and that's why finishing household work like cooking gets delayed," she said.
Dindori collector Vikash Mishra declared her as chief guest during this year's Republic Day parade. She unfurled the national flag and also took the ceremonial salute.
Millets, particularly Kodo and Kutki, are cultivated in around 39,000-hectare areas largely in the Samnapur and Bajag blocks of Dindori. They score over rice and wheat in terms of vitamins, minerals, and fibre, and need very little water to grow.
Millets are also known as a "powerhouse" of nutrition. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman described millets as 'Shree Anna' - the mother of all grains - during her Budget speech.
Chhattisgarh is at the top when it comes to the production of coarse grains, followed by Madhya Pradesh.
The Madhya Pradesh government had declared a Minimum Support Price (MSP) for Jowar, Bajra, and Ragi but when NDTV asked Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan about MSP on Millets he said, "We will promote millets. In Dindori, our women's self-help groups had started processing Kodo Kutki long ago. We will now promote Millets."