Barnyard millet: a fast growing, drought tolerant, nutritious crop
Author: Smita N. Shingane

Echinochloa frumentacea (Indian barnyard millet, sawa millet, or billion dollar grass) is a species of Echinochloa. This millet is widely grown as a cereal in India, China, Japan, Pakistan, Africa and Nepal. Its wild ancestor is the tropical grass Echinochloa colona but the exact date or region of domestication is uncertain. It is cultivated on marginal lands where rice and other crops will suffer from stress. In India, it is largely grown in harsh and fragile environments, with minimal use of agricultural inputs. Due to its remarkable ability to withstand erratic rainfall and varying weather conditions it is a regular crop up to 2,300 m msl during rainy season in Uttarakhand and Tamilnadu and form a main stay of agricultural diet and cultural system of people in this region. (Kumar et al., 2007).

Taxonomy and Botany

The genus Echinochloa (Poaceae) includes 35 species (Mabberley 1997) that are widely distributed in the warmer parts of the world. Majority of them are known as aggressive colonizer of disturbed habitat or weeds of cultivated field, while Echinochloa utilis Ohwi and Yabuno and E. frumentacea Link are the cultivated species. E. utilis (Japanese barnyard millet) is domesticated in temperate region of both the old and new worlds. This species is cultivated in Japan, Korea and China. E. frumentacea (barnyard millet) is grown in tropical region including India and Central Africa. It is grown in India from Himalayan region in the north to Deccan plateau in the south. It is generally cultivated in hill slopes and undulating fields of hilly, tribal or backward areas, where few options exist for crop diversification. Easy cultivation, voluminous fodder and assured crop harvest have made it an indispensable crop of North West Himalayan region.

Wild species Chromosome no. Characteristics
E. crus-galli 2n= 48 Annual tufted grass grown as fodder
E. stagnina 2n = 54 Perennial weed, grown as fodder, made into hay
E. pyramidalis 2n = 54, 72 A weed like perennial, excellent fodder and pasture
E. colona 2n = 36, 48, 54, 72 Jungle rice: a good fodder at all stages.
(Joel et al. 2006)

Barnyard millet is freely tillering, herbaceous annual. The culm is smooth and slender. Internodes hollow. The first formed roots are seminal roots and subsequently fibrous root system develops. Leaves are flat, glabrous or slightly hairy with ligule. Inflorescence identified as a digitate panicle, contracted or pyramidal with many spikes. Thickened with densely packed in 3-5 rows, turgid, glumes two, lower floret strile, upper floret fertile, hermaphorodite, stamens three, ovary superior, styles two with plumose stigma. Fruit a caryopsis enclosed with in lemma and palea. Seed small, smooth, shinning and rounded at base and pointed at apex.

Nutritional composition and food value

Barnyard millet is also an appropriate food for patients intolerant to gluten causing celiac disease or other forms of allergies/intolerance of wheat, as none of the millets are closely related to wheat, so they are appropriate foods for such patients. Seeds of the crop are very nutritious. Its grain contains 11.2g/100g Proteins, 10.1g/100g crude fibre, 4.4g/100g minerals and 15.2mg/100g iron. (Anonymous, 2010)

Nutrient composition of Barnyard millet and cereals (per 100 g)

Food gain
Crude fibre
Mineral matter
Fe (mg)
Barnyard millet 6.2 65.5 2.2 9.8 4.4 11 280 15.0
Wheat 11.8 71.2 1.5 1.2 1.5 41 306 5.3
Rice 6.8 78.2 0.5 0.2 0.6 45 160

• Anonymous. 2010. Status paper on millets. Directorate of millets Development, Jaipur, India.

• Joel JA, Vanniarajan C, Raveendran TS and Gopalan A. 2006. Fundamentals of crop botany.Directorate of Open and Distance Learning, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, India

• Kumar J, Kumar B and Yadav VK. 2007.Small millet research. G B Pant University of Agriculture and Technology.Hill Campus Ranichuri Uttarakhand. 58pp.

• Mabberley DJ (1997) The plant book: a portable dictionary of the vascular plants. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK 858 pp

About Author / Additional Info:
Dr. Smita N.Shingane has completed Ph.D. in (Genetics and Plant Breeding)