Millet crops have been dominant components of rainfed agriculture on specific geographical/climatic regions. Their adaptation to harsher environments and diverse cultural and agro-climatic situations is well known. These crops have specific attributes to withstand drought, heat, salinity and adaptability to resource poor agriculture production system (Seetharama and Tonapi, 2006).
The word millet is generally used for the following crops:
Major millets: Great millet or Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), Pearl millet (Pennisetum typhoids).
Minor/Small millets: Finger millet (Eleusine coracana), Fox tail millet (Setaria italic), Proso millet (Panicum miliaceum), Little millet (Panicum miliare), Barnyard millet (Echinochloa colona), Kodo millet (Paspalum scrobiculatum).
Among the millets, Sorghum, Pearl millet and Finger millet are cultivated in larger areas of the World. The successful development and spread of hybrids and improved varieties in these three crops made a significant impact on their productivity during green revolution period (1970s and 80s). During the last five decades the focus of the plant breeding research programs was on major crops (Rice, Wheat, Maize, Sorghum, etc.). These crops witnessed the major increase in the production and productivity in Green revolution period. The other small millets also have many advantages over these crops in Ago-ecosystem and nutrition point of view.
a) Importance of millets in Agro-ecosystem
Small millets constituted the dominant components of dryland agriculture providing food for humans and forage for animals habituating vast rainfed areas vulnerable to weather fluctuations, droughts and famines. These crops have traditionally been the indispensible component of dry farming system. But, due to shifting of all valuable agriculture resources to high yielding crops such as rice, wheat, maize, and other cash crops sugarcane, cotton, soybean etc., the small millets have all along received little emphasis and least attention. Now, the things are changing and researchers have realized the importance of these small millets in cropping systems, their ability to give sustainable production in adverse climatic conditions. These are the valuable sources for different genes related to biotic and abiotic stress resistance.
b) Importance of millets in nutrition
Small millets were well known for their benefits and formed a significant share of the food basket in the households in the past. Modernization, urbanization and various other factors had brought about a shift in consumption in favour of rice and wheat, with millets playing a minor role. However, in the years to come, millets will have a critical role in achieving food security and they have been termed as nutritious cereals to reflect their role in future foods. Nutritionally they are rich sources for micronutrients, essential amino acids and dietary fibre. Value added products of millets are eco-friendly and viable technologies for income generation to rural community. We need to bring back these old crops for sustaining our livelihoods.
Secondly, demand for millets in the industrial sector is also on the rise. Millets is fast emerging as an industrial raw material in a range of industries such as ethanol production, starch manufacturing etc. In view of these merits, it is time to critically evaluate their role in the conservation of bio-diversity, human and animal nutrition, therapeutic diets and industrial uses (Rao et al. 2006). Promotion of value added millet products will definitely play a pro-active role in creating awareness among consumers and to combat malnutrition and also helps in protecting valuable global resources
1. Rao, Dayakar B., Seetharama, N. and V. A. Tonapi, 2006, Strategies and Policy Perspectives on Millets in India- Challenges of Market Economy. In-Inaugural souvenir of Society for Millets Research. National Research Center for Sorghum (Now Directorate of Sorghum Research), Rajendranagar, Hyderabad-30, AP, India. 232pp
2. Seetharama, N. and V.A., Tonapi. 2006, Strategies for Millets Development and Utilization: Inaugural souvenir of Society for Millets Research. National Research Center for Sorghum (Now Directorate of Sorghum Research), Rajendranagar, Hyderabad-30, AP, India. 232pp
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Co-authors: Ganapathy, KN and Smita Shingane