Ears of millet

Millets are in the family of cereals grown globally with differential importance across continents and within regions of the world. They form a diverse group of small grains cultivated in diverse and adverse environments, mostly in the dry, semi-arid to subhumid drought-prone agro ecosystems. Worldwide, there are nine species of millets with total production of 28.38 million tons, out of which 11.36 million tons (40%) are produced in Africa from six species. 

Millets are extremely important in the African SAT (semi-arid tropics), produced in 18.50 million ha by 28 countries covering 30% of the continent. This is a significant 49% of the global millet area, with a production of 11.36 million tons by 1994. There are nine species which form major sources of energy and protein for about 130 million people in SSA (Sub-Saharan Africa). Among these, only four are produced significantly in Africa; including pearl millet (the most widely grown in 76% area), finger millet (19% area), tef (9%) and fonio (4%). Millet production is distributed differentially among a large number of African countries; largest producers being in West Africa led by Nigeria (41%), Niger (16%), Burkina Faso (7%), Mali (6.4%), Senegal and Sudan (4.8% each). Finger millet is produced mainly in East and Southern Africa.

Millets are consumed as staple food (78%), drinks and other uses (20%). Feed use is still very small (2%). As food, they are nutritionally equivalent or superior to most cereals; containing high levels of methionine, cystine, and other vital amino acids for human health. They are also unique sources of pro-vitamin A (yellow pearl millets) and micronutrients (Zn, Fe and Cu) which are especially high in finger millet.

Future trends need increasing productivity and trade (regionally and internationally) and adding value to products by improving/increasing processing and utilization in industry. More research-for-development (R4D) and networking are required to achieve these. 

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A B Obilana – ICRISAT, P O Box 39063, Nairobi, Kenya