Millets are grasses with smaller seeds than the grains that people like me, in the rich world, know as our staple foods. We should notice other grains too, including millets. Millions of people appreciate millets as staple food and as livestock feed. And as climates change, they might be food for the future.
Here’s an article in New Agriculturalist about ‘Making it with Millets’ which caught my eye. Indian women have been growing, preparing, serving and eating millet for thousands of years. Feeding it to their livestock too. But they haven’t always taken much pride in millet, seeing it as ‘food for the poor’ and rarely trading it. Now, we read in that article, millet is coming into its strength.
‘By improving planting techniques (sowing seed in rows, use of farmyard manure and weeding) and working with the farmers’ traditional knowledge to select higher yielding varieties, villagers have been able to grow more food (up to 70 per cent more yield) for their families and have a surplus to sell, increasing incomes by 30 per cent.’
The first thing that happened when I started learning about millets was that I got confused. I’m used to staple grains that I’ll call the Big Three, whose scientific names are relatively easy. Rice is Oryza sativa, maize (corn) is Zea mays. Even wheat, of which we eat a few species, is just one genus: Triticum spp. But millets aren’t a single species or even a single genus. There are about six thousand of them.
My fellow bloggers at Millets tell us what’s great about these grains. They grow well in drylands, they’re digestible and nutritious. And let me tell you, if you don’t already eat millets you should try them because they taste good.
Gramene agrees. This website calls itself ‘A Resource for Comparative Grass Genomics,’ gathering science about edible grasses, grasses sown on farms and in gardens, and other grasses which aren’t domesticated. Yet. Look there if you want to know about the Big Three that I’ve already named, and also about barley (Hordeum vulgare), foxtail millet (Setaria italica, formerly called Panicum italicum L.), oats (Avena sativa), pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum), rye (Secale cereale), sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), and true wild rice (Zizania palustris).
My fellow blogger bbzfrankie told us about pearl millet which is the world’s most widely grown millet. But today, I’m admiring ‘minor millets’. I’m admiring foxtail millet. Those Indian farmers who are ‘Making it with Millets’ grow minor millets including the foxtail kind. Its seedheads look like foxes’ tails as they always did but for those women, foxtail millet isn’t so minor now.
‘Farmer, Latha Chandra Kumar, explains how earning an income has made a difference to the life of her family: “Now we have started adding value to millet production we are earning money. Before we had to depend on our husbands but now we are earning money which we use for our children’s education and our family expenses.”‘