Riding a red electric scooter on country roads in eastern India, Sanjulata Mahanta has become something of a poster girl for millet since she stunned fellow villagers by planting the hardy grain — and making a profit — three years ago.

"People laughed at me and said I was growing grass," Mahanta, 35, said on a humid morning as farmers from Kaurikala village in Odisha state gathered under a tree for a millet workshop mixing history, cookery and climate change adaptation.

Mahanta has now helped about a dozen other women farmers to sow millet, long a staple in Asia and Africa before rice, wheat and maize started to take its place in fields and on menus about six decades ago.