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The millets are a group of small-seeded species of cereal crops or grains, widely grown around the world for food and fodder. The most widely cultivated species include Pearl millet or Bajra and Finger millet or Ragi. Millet is considered to have higher nutritional value than wheat, specially phosphorus and Iron. Also, Buckwheat and Millet are the only two grains that are alkaline. Therefore, these grains are widely used in India by people suffering from stomach ulcers or colitis. India accounts for 40% of global millet production. Two thirds of this production is Pearl Millet, followed by Finger millet.

The most popular millets produced in India follow:

Pearl Millet/Spiked Millet (Bajra): Bajra is grown in Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.
Finger Millet (Ragi): Ragi is also used to produce beer. Ragi is produced mainly in Karnataka, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
Great Millet/Sorghum (Jowar)
Foxtail Millet (Kheri)
Little Millet (Kodo)
Barnyard millet (Jhungori)

Spatial distribution of millets in India:
In India, eight millets species (Sorghum, Finger millet, Pearl millet, Foxtail millet, Barnyard millet, Proso millet, Kodo millet and Little millet) are commonly cultivated under rainfed conditions.

Further, in each of the millet growing areas at least 4 to 5 species are cultivated either as primary or allied crop in combination with the pulses, oilseeds, spices and condiments. The spatial distribution of millets either as a primary crop or as allied crops largely depends on the growing habitat and the amount of rainfall the region receives. While Sorghum predominates in areas receiving annual rainfall beyond 400 mm, Pearl millet rivals it in areas with annual rainfall of 350 mm (please refer to Chart below). Further, the small millets like Finger millet, Foxtail millet, Barnyard millet, Little millet and Proso millet are found in most of the Southern and Central States in India especially wherever annual rainfall is below 350 mm, perhaps where no other cereal crop can grow under such moisture stress.

However, in spite of a rich inter/intra-species diversity and wider climatic adaptability cultivation of diverse millet species/ varieties is gradually narrowing in the recent past. In a way, a lack of institutional support for millet crops in contrast to the institutional promotion of Rice and Wheat continue to shrink the millet-growing region. In spite of this, several communities in the dry/ rain fed regions having known the food-qualities of Millets over generations continue to include a range of Millets in the traditional cropping patterns, as they recognise Millets as an essential part of the local diet.

Women are primarily engaged in processing of millet for many end use products like dry flour, steaming, popping, roasting or making wet-dough from which she prepares local cuisines every day. The processing of millets for end use products is a laborious activity involving hand impounding, sifting, wetting, grinding and milling or at times parboiling at home.

Traditionally, hand impounding is the primary step for processing Little millet, Foxtail millet, Kodo millet, Proso millet, and Paddy; while Pearl millet, Sorghum, Finger millet are manually ground to make flour to make bread or consumed as whole grain when made into cooked meal. Farmers say that Kodo millet being a hard grain, is most difficult to de-husk as it has several seed coats, but it is worth the effort as its cooked meal is considered to be most tasty of all the millet. However, Little millet, Proso millet and Foxtail millet are the easiest to process wherein they are impounded 3-4 times in the traditional stone pounder. The husk does not go waste, especially of the millets, which is soaked in water and fed to their farm animals. Of late, in some regions (like in Tamil Nadu) millets are parboiled and sun dried for a week before de-husking the hard grains like Dryland paddy, Proso millet, and Kodo millet which enables easier removal of husk and enhances the storability of grains.

Nutritional Aspect:
The protein content in millet is very close to that of wheat; both provide about 11% protein by weight. Millets are rich in B vitamins, especially niacin, B6 and folic acid, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc. Millets contain no gluten, so they are not suitable for raised bread. Alone, they are suited for flatbreads or chapatti.
As none of the millets are closely related to wheat, they are appropriate foods for those with celiac disease or other forms of allergies/intolerance of wheat. However, millets are also a mild thyroid peroxidase inhibitor and probably should not be consumed in great quantities by those with thyroid disease.

Health Benefits of Millet:
Millet is rich source of Magnesium which is why it is considered good for heart health. It lowers the blood pressure and hence reduces the risk of heart diseases.
Niacin content of millet is also pretty good which helps in lowering the cholesterol level and thus reduces the risk for developing atherosclerosis.
Millets contain good amount of phosphorus which is essential for bone development, growth and repair. Moreover phosphorus forms an essential part of the energy currency of our body called ATP and also our genetic coding.
Millet consumption helps in better regulation of blood sugar and hence prevents or controls the diabetes.
Millet contains good quantity of soluble fibers which helps to lower both glucose and cholesterol and hence maintains overall health.
Fiber present in millet prevents the formation of gall stone as well as many types of cancers.
Photos in order: Pearl Millet, Finger Millet, Sorghum, Foxtail Millet, Little Millet and Barnyard Millet.



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