Millets are a group of highly variable small-seeded grasses, widely grown as cereal crops or grains for fodder and human food as the husked millet grain can be eaten just like rice. They are a major food source in arid and semiarid regions around the world. Pearl millet is eaten the most. Millet is also processed into flour, semolina, flakes and popcorn, and it’s a staple of bird feeders.
Several types of millet have been cultivated as far back as early Neolithic China, where traces of millet cultivation from 8300-6700 BC have been found. At that time, millet cultivation was more common than rice. Millet used to be used as food in Europe as well.
In many areas of Africa and Asia, the different types of millet are the most important food.
The various species called millet were initially domesticated in different parts of the world most notably East Asia, South Asia, West Africa, and East Africa. However, the domesticated varieties have often spread well beyond their initial area.
Millet is a tropical/semi tropical crop that grows under dry high temperature, and needs an annual rainfall of 40 cm-60 cm for optimum growth. Millet is a warm climate plant which does not need rainfall and can be cultivated even in most arid lands. It grows best in regions that surround Sahara and will not reach maximum height in cool climate.
Its ability to grow in difficult production environment such as those in risk of drought makes it very common in dry and drought areas like Africa and Asia. The areas of production in Nigeria are Kaduna, Yobe, Kano and Borno states.
Pearl millet is the most cultivated millet, grown predominantly in India and parts of Africa. Millet grows well in sandy soil being a drought-tolerant crop. Millets attain maturity between 4–6 months after planting date, depending on the variety, and can be harvested either by hand or mechanically.
Most millet have excellent storage properties and can be kept for up to 4–5 years even in simple storage facilities, such as traditional granaries as their seeds are protected from insect attack by the hard hull covering the endosperm.
Millets are major food sources in arid and semiarid regions of the world, and feature in the traditional cuisine of many others. In western India, sorghum has been commonly used with millet flour for hundreds of years to make the local staple, hand-rolled flat bread. Another cereal grain popularly used in rural areas and by poor people to consume as a staple in the form of roti. Millet porridge is a traditional food in Russian, German, and Chinese cuisine.
The top national consumer of millet is India, followed by Niger and China. About 40 percent of global consumption is held collectively by African countries like Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso and Sudan. An estimated 80 percent of the world’s millet, and as much as 95 percent when just accounting for African and Asian consumption, is used as food. The remaining percent is used for livestock feed production, beer production – in India, various alcoholic beverages are produced from millets, where it is also the base ingredient for the distilled liquor rakshi – and other applications such as the local milk drinks in Nigeria.
People affected by gluten-related disorders, such as coeliac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy sufferers who need a gluten-free diet, can replace gluten-containing cereals in their diets with millet. However, while millet does not contain gluten, its grains and flour may be contaminated with gluten-containing cereals.
According to Medium.com, millet is generally consumed in the region where it is produced. In other words, global trade is quite low, relatively speaking. Sales are expected to remain high as top and leading companies in the food industry are focusing on providing millet-based food globally due to its numerous health benefits.