Millets – Part I

This is part I of a series of articles on millets. This part describes the types of millets and advantages of using millets from a producer’s (farmer) perspective. The subsequent parts will describe the benefits of millets from the perspective of the ‘millet consuming’ general public, issues in current use of millets and possible solutions to these issues.

by Dr. Saigopal Sathyamurthy & Dr. Abhijeeth Chandrasekaran

About Millets

What are Millets?

Millet is a collective term referring to a number of small-seeded annual grasses that are cultivated as grain crops (FAO).  Millets are cereal crops (such as wheat, rice and maize) that are typically grown in semiarid tropics. A large variety of millets are grown in India. The table below summarizes the different varieties of millets commonly available in India along with the local names of these millets.

English Great Millet / Sorghum Spiked Millet / Pearl Millet Finger Millet Italian Millet / Foxtail Millet Little Millet Kodo Millet Common Millet / Proso Millet Barnyard Millet
Bengali Jowar Bajra Marwa Kaon Sama Kodo Cheena Shyama
Gujarati Jowari / Juar Bajri Nagli / Bavto Kang Gajro / Kuri Kodra Cheno  
Hindi Jowari / Juar Bajra Ragi / Mandika / Marwah Kakum Kutki / Shavan Kodon Chena / Barri Sanwa
Kannada Jola Sajje Ragi Navane Same / Save Harka Baragu Oodalu
Marathi Jowari / Jondhala Bajri Nagli, Nachni Kang / Rala Sava / Halvi / Vari Kodra Vari  
Oriya Juara Bajra Mandia Kanghu / Kangam / Kora Suan Kodua China Bachari Magmu Khira
Punjabi Jowar Bajra Mandhuka /  Mandhal Kangni Swank Kodra Cheena Swank
Tamil Cholam Kambu Keppai / Ragi / Kelvaragu Tenai Samai Varagu Pani Varagu Kuthiraivolly
Telugu Jonna Sajja Ragi chodi Korra Samalu Arikelu / Arika Variga Udalu / Kodisama

Great Millet / Sorghum                                            Spiked Millet / Pearl Millet

sorghum                            pearl-millet

Finger Millet                                                              Italian Millet / Foxtail Millet

finger-millet                          italian-millet

Little Millet                                                               Kodo Millet

little-millet                         kodo-millet

Common Millet / Proso Millet                               Barnyard Millet

common-millet                        barnyard-millet

 

Why we should use millets – Producer perspective

Minimal irrigation requirements

Millets need very little water for their production. Compared to commodity crops currently promoted, millets do not need special irrigation. Millets require only about 25-30% of the rainfall demanded by water-intense crops such as sugarcane, banana and rice. For e.g. about 4000 liters of water is required to grow one kg of rice while comparable figures for millets are about 1200 litres (30% of 4000 litres) millets grow with limited irrigation.

Versatile soil requirements

Millets do not demand rich soils for their survival and growth. Hence, for vast dryland areas (that exists in many parts of India), they are a boon. Most millets can be grown in low fertility soils. Some in acidic soils, some on saline soils. Certain millets (such as Pearl millet) can also be grown in sandy soils, such as parts of Rajasthan. Millets thrive where other crops such as rice struggle to grow, e.g. finger millets show good growth in saline soils or barnyard millets can grow in a wide variety of difficult-to-grow soils.

Biodiversity

Millet farms are intrinsically biodiverse. Traditional millet farming involves planting six to twenty crops on the same space at the same time. Typical companion crops are red gram (and other leguminous crops) and amaranth (that provides fuelwood and fibre). Legumes are prolific leaf shedders and also help the soil fix nitrogen. Therefore, growth of millets complements growth of other crops and helps reclaim soils by maintaining / improving fertility.

Hardy crops

They can be termed as pest-free crops, as millets do not attract pests. A majority of them are not affected by storage pests either and can be stored for 2-3 years. Therefore, their need for pesticides is practically negligible. Thus, they are a great blessing to the agricultural environment. In addition to the foregoing, their inherent hardiness renders millets relatively resistant to climate changes such as increased temperature and water stress. This is especially important as Climate Change is a very real possibility that we may confront in the not-too-distant future (MINI- Millet network of India).

 

[Consumer benefits of millets (part II), issues in use of millets and possible solutions to these issues (part III) to follow]

Dr Saigopal S is a physician and public health expert. Dr Abhijeeth C is a pathologist. They are currently involved in pharmaceutical consulting. Some parts of the article (related to agri/horticultural practices) are not the authors’ domain expertise – nonetheless, they represent informed opinions based on robust literature evidence.

Corresponding author: Dr. Saigopal Sathyamurthy; email: saigopal2784@gmail.com

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the authors in their private capacity

References

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. MILLET: Post-harvest Operations. 2001. Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/a-av009e.pdf

MINI, DDS, FIAN. Millets Future of Food and Farming. Available at: http://www.swaraj.org/shikshantar/millets.pdf

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