Published: 11th January 2019
Millets on your mind: How IIMR, a research institute in Hyderabad, will ensure you eat right forever
Going beyond the call of a research institute, Indian Institute of Millet Research in Hyderabad is doing all it can to make sure millets finally get their due
The year 2018 closed on a wonderful note as the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations Organisations approved India's proposal to declare 2023 as the International Year of Millets. This, after India celebrated the National Year of Millets last year. And if you, like us, are cringing at the word millet, be assured, that they are going to leave your taste buds wanting more. Well, more on that later.
Here it is: Nutrihub at IIMR, Rajendra Nagar, Hyderabad | (Pic: Vinay Madapu)
The good news compelled us to visit the Indian Institute of Millet Research (IIMR) in Hyderabad. Another draw was Nutrihub, the incubator supported by the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, hosted by Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) started last year to help those start-ups who wish to make a mark in the field of nutricereals. They have about 15 start-ups who are physically incubated at the facility and 25 that are virtually incubated. So we made our way to Rajendra Nagar, where IIMR is located.
We met Dr Dayakar Rao, Principal Scientist (Agricultural Economics) and CEO, Nutribub — which is also branded as Nesting Incubation and Entrepreneurship for Leveraging Agri-innovations in Nutricereals (NIELAN). After completing his PhD from the National Dairy Research Institute in Karnal, he has been working with IIMR since the time it was called the National Research Center for Sorghum. And his intensive research in the field of millets has yielded a lot of insight into this indigenous nutricereal. "After the Green Revolution, rice and wheat were pampered, so much so that even areas where these were not generally grown, like Southern India, were encouraged to grow rice and wheat," says Dr Rao, adding that, "Even the Public Distribution System supported them. Though this was conceptually right because at that time, food security was the only concern, the question was 'How do we feed millions?'. It is only of late that we are realising the bigger malady that the Green Revolution brought us — Nutrition Security and hidden hunger." Not to mention all the lifestyle diseases that are coming into play and with the consequences of climate change already upon us, Dr Rao says that rice and wheat will not yield as much as they are yielding today.
Brands like ITC and Britannia will keenly watch the progress of these start-ups. The moment they clear all the clutter, establish supply chains and ease all the problems out, these big names will jump in
Dr Dayakar Rao, Principal Scientist (Agricultural Economics) and CEO, Nutribub | (Pic: Vinay Madapu)
Millets to the rescue
Millets a climate-smart crop and require one-tenth of the water that rice needs to grow in. As it's high in fibre, it digests slowly, releases glucose slowly, and is better for diabetes. They have a low carbon footprint and comes with the goodness of iron and protein along with minerals like calcium and magnesium as well. Are you convinced or should we go on? But it was not enough that Dr Rao impressed upon people the varied benefits that diversifying a diet and including millets in it would cause. He was well aware of all the gaps in terms of research, availability of processing units and low demand for the nutricereal. "We did jugaad to make the machines process millets," admits Dr Rao and laughs. The rice, wheat and corn machines were customised to fit their requirements and as a result, they have three processing plants at IIMR, including another which is coming up, all of which we had the privilege of seeing.
A Nutricereals Conclave was conducted in June 2018 in Hyderabad by ICAR-IIMR where they invited applications for Nutrihub
They even experimented with the shelf life of the product, "Otherwise it would have been lost in the retail chain," says Dr Rao, and extended it from 30 days to six months. Jowar puffs and biscuits, ragi soup, millet instant ladoo mix, foxtail millet pasta, finger millet cookies, sorghum lassi, pearl millet flakes — the menu goes on and on. They tried to sell all these through their brand Eat Right and, to no one's surprise, received an overwhelming response. And with this, though they are solely a research institute, they diversified into food technology, a processing unit and attempted to build a value chain around millets, successfully. But it was time to pass on the mantle to others. This was how Nutrihub came to be.
So many options: All the varieties of nutricereals on display | (Pic: Vinay Madapu)
More than 40 MoUs have been signed between start-ups and Nutrihub since it was launched. "They get their produce manufactured here, and they sell under their own brand," explains Dr Rao. From mentoring to felicitating financial agencies, everything that could help a start-up is offered here. And start-ups too are as diverse as they can be. While one concentrates on breakfast cereals alone, another is looking to export products and why not? "The West is sending quinoa to us, so we should aspire to send them millets as well," says Dr Rao.
Next up, Nutrihub trying to make breads from millets and a probiotic drink as well
They do have a few more challenges to overcome though. Like a few varieties of millets have as many as seven layers of cover, so how does one get to the "gold" beneath it all. So, in a few cases, primary processing is a task. The farmer, of course, needs to benefit from this as well. Just then, we are served ragi soup, sorghum biscuits and murukku. As we relish the soup and snacks, we do a little toast internally with ourselves for finding a New Year's resolution after all.
A few start-ups incubated with them
Fountain Head Foods
Health Sutra, whose millet flakes, biscuits and many other products are already available across 1,400 stores of the two Telugu-speaking states, is leveraging IIMR's "technological prowess" to further their goals, says Sai Krishna Popuri, Founder and CEO. Nutrihub also helped them with visibility as they have had the chance to present their products in front of Cabinet ministers as well. Fountain Head Foods is their registered company under which they run the brand Health Sutra. They plan to innovate a lot more and further their cause of building a brand rooted in Indian agriculture, Popuri informs.
Pouring it: A woman working at one of their plants | (Pic: Vinay Madapu)
Ridgeland Industries was started in February 2014 and the moment they realised the demand of ready-to-eat products, they took the help to Nutrihub. Calling them the "Godfather" who helped them navigate the unventured territories of millet, Dabbugunta Madhavi, one of the two co-founders, says that, "Nutrihub has helped us in terms of marketing, manufacturing and technology." She goes on to say that, "We can't stop kids from eating junk, so the least we can do is substitute junk with more healthier options." They offer jowar and ragi crisps and many other yummy and healthy products.
Completely engrossed: A lady working at one of their labs | (Pic: Vinay Madapu)
Inner Being Wellness
Inner Being Wellness products are available on ecommerce websites like Big Basket and in Food Bazar as well. "This is what people want right now, they want to shift to healthier options," says Executive Product Development and Production Head of Inner Being Wellness, Pavan Kanugo Archana. The no gluten, high-fibre and no added sugar aspect of their products really works in their favour. Next in their line up is Breakfast Mix, Pancake Mix, Ragi Chocolate Mix and many such products. "Nutrihub has truly given us a wonderful platform and guided us through it all," she says and concludes.
The services that Nutrihub offers are
- Technology consultancy
- Business facilitation
- Mentoring and networking
- Infrastructure facilities
- Access to funding
Green fields: Nutricereals being grown at IIMR | (Pic: Vinay Madapu)
For more on them, click on nutrihub-tbi-iimr.