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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains 2 Finger Millet Finger millet (Eleusine coracana) is hardly "lost." Indeed, it is one of the few special species that currently support the world's food supplies. This African native probably originated in the highlands of Uganda and Ethiopia, where farmers have been growing it for thousands of years. In parts of eastern and southern Africa as well as in India, it became a staple upon which millions depend. And its annual world production is at least 4.5 million tons of grain, of which Africa produces perhaps 2 million tons. For all its importance, however, finger millet is grossly neglected both scientifically and internationally. Compared to the research lavished on wheat, rice, and maize, for instance, it receives almost none. Most of the world has never heard of it, and even many countries that grow it have left it to languish in the limbo of a "poor person's crop," a "famine food," or, even worse, a "birdseed.''1 Further, in recent years this neglected crop has started an ominous slide that could propel it to oblivion even in Africa. In fact, it has declined so rapidly in southern Africa, Burundi, Rwanda, and Zaire, for instance, that some people predict that in a few years it will be hard to find—even where until recently it was the predominant cereal. In those areas it clings to existence only in plots that are grown for use on feast days and other occasions demanding prestige fare. The world's attitude towards finger millet must be reversed. Of all major cereals, this crop is one of the most nutritious. Indeed, some varieties appear to have high levels of methionine, an amino acid lacking in the diets of hundreds of millions of the poor who live on starchy foods such as cassava and plantain. Outsiders have long marveled at how people in Uganda and southern Sudan could develop such strapping physiques and work as hard as they do on just one meal a day. Finger millet seems to be the main reason. This crop has many other advantages as well. Its grain tastes better than most; Africans who know it usually prefer finger millet over all others. The plant is also productive and thrives in a variety of 1 This is its main use in the United States, for example.
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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains environments and conditions. Moreover, its seeds can be stored for years without insect damage, which makes them lifesavers for famine-prone areas. Given all these qualities, it is perhaps hard to understand why finger millet is being rejected. But the reason is simple. People are giving it up in favor of maize, sorghum, and especially cassava because producing finger millet takes a lot of work.2 The truth is that finger millet, as produced at present, demands a dedication to drudgery that, given a choice, few people are willing to invest. Part of the terrible toil is in weeding the fields, part in handling the harvest, and part in processing the grain. PROSPECTS Even though finger millet is declining in the heartland where 30 years ago it was the major crop of the land, all is not lost. Indeed, if immediate attention is given, the impediments causing the decline will probably be eliminated. In fact, there are already signs that the slide may be bottoming out. Prices paid for finger millet have risen dramatically in some places, and the crop is enjoying something of a resurgence—and a highly profitable one at that. In Kenya, for instance, the grain currently sells at more than twice the price of sorghum and maize.3 In Zimbabwe, too, the government offers an attractive producer price, which has tended to slow the decline. And Uganda's most recent statistics indicate that finger millet still occupies 50 percent of its cereal area. Africa If this crop is given proper attention, it has the following possibilities within Africa. Humid Areas Excellent prospects. Certain varieties are adapted to heat, humidity, and tropical conditions. (Finger millet was once the principal staple for people in southern Sudan and northern Uganda, for instance.) Given research, recognition, and sympathetic policies, production could expand dramatically. 2 At least one reviewer speculates that abandoning this nutritious grain millet for the less nutritious ones is "likely one of the causes of increasing famine in many areas." 3 What is more, the government-controlled price (630 shillings per quintal, or $0.29 per kilo in 1991) is only half the open-market price (1,200-1,400 shillings per quintal, or $0.60 per kilo).
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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains Finger millet seedheads look like "hands" with the grain contained in the "digits," hence the name. Some of the hands are curled into "fists." The crop is especially appreciated by the peoples in eastern and northern Uganda. To them, it has a high social value. They traditionally hold celebrations for the new harvest, and they serve finger millet bread to visitors and neighbors whom they want to impress. In the Uganda region, however, the people prefer finger millet in the form of hot porridge served with either sugar or banana juice.
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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains Finger millet is grown throughout eastern and southern Africa, but especially in the subhumid uplands of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zaire, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The crop originated somewhere in the area that today is Uganda. Dry Areas Fair prospects. Finger millet is not as drought tolerant as pearl millet or even sorghum, but it could play a much greater role in savanna areas that get at least moderate rainfall. Upland Areas Excellent prospects. Certain finger millet landraces are fully adapted to highland conditions. In Africa the crop is usually grown at altitudes between 1,000 and 2,000 m and in Nepal it is grown at altitudes up to at least 2,400 m. Other Regions Finger millet is certainly not being abandoned in Asia. Indeed, India's national yields have increased 50 percent since 1955.4 Moreover,
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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains in Nepal, the finger millet area is expanding at the rate of 8 percent per year.5 Any international efforts to promote and improve the plant appear to be as beneficial to Asia as to Africa. This high-methionine grain might also be beneficial for use in weaning foods and in many other cereal products in parts of the world (Latin America and North America, for instance) where it is now largely ignored. USES This is a versatile grain that can probably be used in dozens of types of foods, including many that are quite unlike its traditional ones. Its several major uses include the following: Porridge. The small grains—which are usually brown but occasionally white—are commonly boiled into a thick porridge. Bread. Some finger millet is ground into flour and used for bread and various other baked products. All are relished for their flavor and aroma. Malt. Malted finger millet (the sprouted seeds) is produced as a food in a few places. It is nutritious, easily digested, and is recommended particularly for infants and the elderly. Beverages. Much finger millet in Africa is used to make beer. Its amylase enzymes readily convert starch to sugar. Indeed, finger millet has much more of this "saccharifying" power than does sorghum or maize; only barley, the world's premier beer grain, surpasses it. In Ethiopia, finger millet is also used to make arake, a powerful distilled liquor. Fodder. Finger millet straw makes good fodder—better than that from pearl millet, wheat, or sorghum. It contains up to 61 percent total digestible nutrients. Popped Products. Finger millet can be popped. It is widely enjoyed in this tasty form in India (see page 298). 4 Most of the increase occurred between 1955 and 1975 and resulted from genetic improvement of India's traditional landraces. Subsequent increases were due to crosses between those and new strains introduced from Africa. 5 In Nepal the crop has a special niche: during monsoon rains, it continues growing well, even when the soil is almost waterlogged and where the nutrients have been leached out by the daily downpours.
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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains NUTRITIONAL PROMISE Main Components Essential Amino Acids Edible portion (g) 95 Cystine 1.7 Moisture (g) 12 Isoleucine 4.0 Food energy (Kc) 334 Leucine 7.8 Protein (g) 7.3 Lysine 2.5 Carbohydrates (g) 74 Methionine 5.0 Fats (g) 1.3 Phenylalanine 4.1 Fiber (g) 3.2 Threonine 3.1 Ash (g) 2.6 Tryptophan 1.3 Vitamin A (RE) 6 Tyrosine 4.1 Thiamin (mg) 0.24 Valine 6.4 Riboflavin (mg) 0.11 Niacin (mg) 1.0 Vitamin C (mg) 1 Calcium (mg) 358 Chloride (mg) 84 Copper (mg) 0.5 Iodine (μg) 10 Iron (mg) 9.9 Magnesium (mg) 140 Manganese (mg) 1.9 Molybdenum (μg) 2 Phosphorus (mg) 250 Potassium (mg) 314 Sodium (mg) 49 Zinc (mg) 1.5 No single set of numbers can adequately convey the nutritional promise of a grain as variable as finger millet. The numbers in these pages should be taken with caution. The dozen or so measurements that have been reported generally agree on most of the different nutrients. However, protein contents ranging from 6 to 14 percent have been claimed. The levels of fat (1-1.4 percent) and food energy (323-350 Kc) that are normally given are fairly consistent and are about the same as in maize. However, in some samples they seem to be much higher. The situation regarding iron is somewhat similar. Most analyses give the figure as about 5 mg per 100 g. But there have been two reports of iron exceeding 17 mg.
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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains COMPARATIVE QUALITY Figures reported for the essential amino acids are generally consistent, but 3 percent methionine is commonly referred to in the literature. Possibly, this was based on degerminated flour. Even that figure is outstanding for a cereal grain. In this chart, we have compared whole-grain finger millet with the standard figures for maize. These are perhaps not fair comparisons, but they do accurately reflect the differences between the forms in which each food is normally eaten.
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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains NUTRITION The grain's protein content (7.4 percent) is comparable to that of rice (7.5 percent). However, it shows considerable variation, and at least one Indian cultivar contains as much as 14 percent protein. The main protein fraction (eleusinin) has high biological value, with good amounts of tryptophan, cystine, methionine, and total aromatic amino acids.6 All of these are crucial to human health and growth and are deficient in most cereals. For this reason alone, finger millet is an important preventative against malnutrition. The methionine level—ranging around 5 percent of protein—is of special benefit, notably for those who depend on plant foods for their protein. Finger millet is also a rich source of minerals. Some samples contain 0.33 percent calcium, 5-30 times more than in most cereals. The phosphorus and iron content can also be high. AGRONOMY In Asia, finger millet is planted in rows and managed much like other cereals. But in Africa it is usually handled differently. Unlike maize, sorghum, or pearl millet—all of which are planted at individual stands in a rough seedbed—finger millet is traditionally planted in Africa by broadcasting its tiny seeds. This demands a very fine seedbed and means that the farmers must work hard and long, both to prepare the land and to weed the young plants. Two crops a year are possible with early-maturing types. HARVESTING AND HANDLING In most of Africa the crop is harvested by hand. Individual heads are cut off with a knife, leaving a few centimeters of stalk attached. These are piled in heaps for a few days, which fosters a fermentation whose heat and hydrolysis makes the seeds easier to thresh. Finger millet seeds are so small that weevils cannot squeeze inside. In fact, its unthreshed heads resist storage pests so well they can be stored for 10 years or more without insect damage. (It is said that if kept dry the seed may remain in good condition for up to 50 years!) Yields are variable but (compared to those of other grains in the area) are generally good. In Uganda, for example, a threshed yield of 1,800 kg per hectare is regarded as average. In India, on reasonable 6 "Total aromatic acids" is the combination of phenylalanine and tyrosine.
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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains dryland sites, yields may run to about 1,000 kg per hectare, and on irrigated sites a normal average is more than 2,000 kg per hectare. Yields of 5,000-6,000 kg per hectare have been obtained under ideal irrigated conditions. Similar yields have been obtained in Nepal even under rainfed conditions.7 LIMITATIONS As has been noted, the small size of the seeds is a serious drawback. It makes the crop difficult to handle at all stages. Weeding is a particular problem. In Africa the dominant weed, a wild relative of the crop, looks so much like finger millet in its early stages that only skilled observers and close scrutiny can tell them apart. The problem is compounded by the practice of broadcasting seed. To weed the resulting jumbled stands, people must inspect every plant, even going through on hands and knees. Finger millet is subject to bird predators—notably to the notorious quelea (see Appendix A). By and large, the plant suffers little from diseases and insects, but a ferocious fungal disease called "blast" can devastate whole fields. Finger millet is almost entirely self-pollinating and crosses between different strains can be made only with difficulty. Until recently, genetic improvement was limited to pedigree-based selection. However, in Uganda a few plants with male sterility have now been discovered. These should ease the way to breeding methods in which different lines can be crossed without trouble. Because the seeds are so small, it takes skill and much effort to convert finger millet into flour—particularly by hand. Even hammer mills have difficulty. They must be fitted with very fine screens and run at high speed. Recently, however, a special mill for millet has been devised (see next page). NEXT STEPS If finger millet is ever to be rescued, now is the time. The key is to find ways to present its plight and promise to the public and politicians and to develop its markets. A few motivated individuals could do much here. Among helpful actions might be a pan-African finger millet conference, where researchers and others could compare methods used to grow it, prepare it, and sell it in the various nations. This 7 Information from K.W. Riley.
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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains Processing Finger Millet Milling Mechanical milling is of course well known; for wheat, rice, and maize, it is a major industry. But for finger millet, this primary step in the commercial processing of a food grain is essentially unknown. Machinery for rubbing the bran (embryo) off finger millet has never been available, perhaps through a lack of interest but mainly because the grain is exceptionally difficult to mill by machine. Finger millet, therefore, is usually eaten as a whole-grain flour, and the presence of oil in the embryo means that its shelf life is short and its commercial use limited. Finger millet seed is a challenge to mill because it is very small and because its seed coat is bound tightly to the edible part (endosperm) inside. Moreover, the grain is so soft and friable that conventional milling equipment cannot remove the outside without crushing the inside. However, farmers have long known that moistening finger millet (for about 30 minutes) toughens the bran and reduces its grip enough that it can be mechanically separated without crushing the rest. A machine for doing this has now been developed in India. This so-called "mini millet mill" consists of a water mixer, a plate grinder, and various sifter attachments. It is a versatile device in which debranning and sizing the endosperm (into either flour or semolina) take place in a single operation. It yields fairly white products. It can also be used to process wheat, maize, sorghum, and pearl millet and will even remove the outer husk from finger millet seeds if the clearance between the grinder plates is reduced. This machine, and others like it, could initiate a new era for finger millet as a processed grain of commerce. The flour would then have a good shelf life and could be trucked to the cities and sold in stores as are wheat, rice, and maize. Commercial horizons would open up that have never before been contemplated.* Malting Finger millet could be the key to providing cheap and nutritious foods for solving, at last, the malnutrition that each year kills millions of babies throughout the warmer parts of the world. As is described elsewhere (notably in appendixes C and D), the process of germinating finger millet activates enzymes that break down the complex structures of starches into sugars and other simple carbohydrates that are easy to digest. The enzymes * For more information, contact N.G. Malleshi, Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), V.V. Mohalla PO, Mysore 570 013, India.
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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains are of course there to benefit the seeds in which they occur—to mobilize food for the growing seedling; but long ago people found that they could use them also to break up starches from other sources. This process (usually called malting) became the first step in making beer and liquor out of starchy foods such as potatoes, maize, rice, or sorghum (see page 168). What has been overlooked to a large extent is that malting can be used for more than just brewing. Indeed, it is probably the key to making cheap, digestible, liquid foods with little effort and no extra cooking fuel. These foods are particularly promising for children facing the life-threatening dietary switch from mother's milk to solid foods. Adding a tiny amount of malted grain turns a bowl of hot starchy porridge into a watery liquid. The resulting food matches the viscosity of a bottled baby food, such as those sold in American supermarkets. A child who is too small or too weak to get down solids can then get a full meal—and get it out of the food its mother is preparing for the rest of the family. The germinated grain acts as a catalyst to liquefy any of the world's major starchy foods: wheat, rice, maize, sorghum, millet, potatoes, cassava (manioc), yams, and the rest. Moreover, it does more than turn those staples into liquid form: it predigests the starches, making the food easy for a body to absorb, and (by releasing sugars) it renders even the blandest staples palatable. The malted grain is readily available, cheap, and safe to eat. It should develop healthy bodies and fully functioning brains in the millions of children whose health and happiness is now jeopardized by malnutrition. Of all the world's cereal grains, finger millet is second only to barley in its ability to hydrolyze starches (''malting power"). And it has the inestimable value of growing in the latitudes where malnutrition is rife. (Barley is strictly a temperate-zone resource.) But for all its potential to benefit the malnourished, not much attention has been paid to malting internationally. Only in India and Nepal have malt-based children's foods been intensively studied. In both countries, food scientists have created malted-grain products that can overcome malnutrition. And in almost every product, malted finger millet was the prime ingredient. The fact that malting is a cheap and widely understood process that can be easily accomplished in the home or village and requires no fuel or special equipment is a major benefit. This means that top-quality weaning foods can be made by the poor, who cannot afford to buy commercial baby-food concoctions.
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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains meeting would provide the opportunity to exchange experiences and to begin the process of preparing papers, pamphlets, recipes, and perhaps a monograph. Another might be the establishment of a "finger millet action program" to share seeds and research results in the future. There might even be established a pan-African finger millet "SWAT" team to provide advice and stimulus to the countries where finger millet is now declining toward economic extinction. Rescuing this crop may be easier than now seems probable. Lifestyles and eating habits may have changed, but in much of Africa people still appreciate finger millet. Subsistence farmers like finger millet also. Every seed sown can return between 200 and 500 seeds (other grain crops seldom go above 100 even under ideal conditions). And this crop has many uses. To those whose very lives and livelihoods depend on what they grow, its flexibility is vital.8 Beyond Africa, finger millet should also be given a higher research priority. It is a good way to help the rural poor in parts of Asia. Much of the spectacular rise of wheat occurred in areas where irrigation could be used. Overcoming finger millet's yield constraints would, more importantly, benefit rainfed agriculture. Research Needs Research is needed on all aspects of this plant, which now is little known to scientists in general. ICRISAT is conducting research on it, but more effort is needed. Research operations might include those discussed below. Trials in New Areas Entrepreneurs in the United States as well as in Australia and other countries that specialize in cereal breeding could probably do much to benefit this crop. It is already grown in a small way in the United States. It grows well, but so far is used only for birdseed. Nonetheless, it might support a small specialty grain industry for local and national food uses. And enlisting the country's outstanding cereal-science capabilities could perhaps transform this crop's potential worldwide. Farming Methods As far as Africa is concerned, finger millet's greatest immediate needs lie not so much in plant breeding as in farming practices. Reducing the current drudgery involved with its production would bring the biggest and quickest benefits. Surprisingly, techniques for making finger millet production less 8 For crops like these, perhaps we need a whole new measure of performance, one that takes into account not just the yield in the field but the all-around value to people's welfare.
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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains laborious can probably be employed rapidly and widely. For instance, planting the seed in rows would dramatically slash the need for weeding. One or two hoeings (or perhaps a layer of mulch) would eliminate most of the weeds with little further effort. To make this practical, however, a device is needed that can deliver small seed with precision. It would have to be easy to make and simple to use. Such devices do indeed exist (see Appendix A) but have not yet been introduced to finger millet farmers. Examples of other types of farming practices worth exploring are the following: Minimum tillage seeding. Wide rows for water capture. Control of birds. Intercropping or undersowing with legumes. (The foliage from leguminous shrubs or ground cover may be especially helpful by supplying nitrogen to the crop.) Sowing or transplanting with other crops. (In Nepal, for instance, it is often planted with maize.) Weeding using animal power and other labor-saving techniques. Developing ox-drawn implements for planting, cultivating, harvesting, and threshing finger millet. Erosion Control In some parts of southern and eastern Africa finger millet has been abandoned because it "causes" severe soil erosion. In these areas, farmers typically clear forest from a hillside, burn it, and sow finger millet in the ashes. The tiny plants hold soil poorly, and it easily washes away. For such sites there is a need for alternative methods of erosion control. One example might be vetiver (see Appendix A). Another is mulching with stubble from the previous crop. On the other hand, other parts of Africa actually employ finger millet for erosion control. In fact, when broadcast—or even line sown—across the slope it is good for reducing erosion. Data from Zambia, for example, show that the plant prevents erosion more effectively than legumes do. Farmers in Nepal also report that finger millet "holds the soil." Plant Breeding In its genetic development as a crop, finger millet is about where wheat was in the 1890s. Many landrace types are known but have not been systematically evaluated, codified, or analyzed, Thus it is likely that the best-yielding, best-tasting, and best-handling types have not been isolated or created out of the massive gene pool. Since the 1890s, average yields of wheat have risen from about 500 kg per
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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains Ragi Finger millet crossed the Indian Ocean more than 1,000 years ago and since then has become extremely important in South Asia. In India, where it is generally called "ragi," this native African grain is now grown on more than 2 million hectares. In its new home, scientists and farmers have created numerous ragi races. There are, for instance, plants that are purple; seedheads that are short, long, "open," "curved," or "fisty"; seeds that range from almost black to orange-red; and there is also a popular type whose seeds are pure white. Some ragi varieties are dwarfs (less than 50 cm), some tiller profusely, some are slow to mature and are grown mainly under irrigation, while others mature quickly and lend themselves to dryland production. Ragi is considered one of India's best dryland crops, and most of it is produced without supplemental water. The plant is both adaptable and resilient: it survives on lateritic soils, it withstands some salinity, and it has few serious diseases or pests. Ragi also yields well at elevations above those suitable for most other tropical cereals. In the Himalaya foothills, for example, it is cultivated up to slightly over 2,000 m above sea level. Despite its importance in the Himalayas, about 75 percent of the ragi area lies in South India, particularly in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh. In parts of this vast region farmers can get two crops a year; in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh three are not unknown. Wherever the rains at sowing time are uncertain, the farmers often transplant ragi like rice. In fact, the two crops are commonly grown in a "relay'' that is good for both. For instance, in May a farmer may start out by sowing ragi seeds in the nursery; in June, he (or she) transplants the seedlings to the field and replants the nursery with rice seeds; in August, the ragi crop is harvested and the rice seedlings are put out into the just vacated fields. This process is efficient, highly productive, and a good insurance against the vagaries of the weather. Ragi yields as much as 5,000 kg of grain per hectare. Because the seed can be stored for decades (some say 50 years), it is highly valued as a reserve against famines. However, ragi is much more than just a famine food. In certain regions it is an everyday staple. It is, for instance, a principal cereal of the farming classes in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh, as well as in the Himalaya hill tracts (including those of Nepal). The grain is mainly processed into flour, from which is made a variety of cakes, puddings, porridges, and other
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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains Indian farmer holding ragi (ICRISAT). tasty foods. Some, however, is malted and turned into beer as well as into easily digested foods for infants and invalids. As in its African homeland, ragi enjoys a reputation for being both nutritious and sustaining, and Indian studies lend scientific support to this view. Certain grain types, particularly the white ones, can match the most nutritious local cereals, at least in protein content.
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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains hectare to more than 4,000 kg per hectare; finger millet's could rise similarly and much more quickly. Various finger millet landraces possess genes for blast resistance, robust growth, early vigor, large panicle size, high finger number and branching, and high-density grain. Similarly, there are water-efficient types with high carbon dioxide fixation and low leaf area that could be outstanding new crops for semiarid conditions. Long-glume types with high seed weight are especially promising for increasing seed size. All of these, and more, are genetic raw materials that could transform this crop. The grain is already nutritious, but it might be improved even more. As noted, types containing up to 14 percent protein are known. Also, it is a high-methionine protein and, of all the essential amino acids, is the most difficult to find in grain-based foods. Thus these finger millets could be a "super cereal" in nutritional terms. White-seeded forms that make good unleavened bread and bakery products are also known, and they too are undeveloped. Today's crop in Africa is overwhelmingly the coarse, rusty-red form that is mainly useful for porridge and brewing beer. Hybrids between Indian and African varieties seem promising as well. These high-yielding "Indaf" types are popular in India. Similar hybridization and selection for improved Indaf varieties for African conditions is now being started.9 Hybridization, however, is difficult and mutation breeding is another approach worth exploring. Some of finger millet's relatives have interesting traits that might be transferable. Among wild Eleusine species are perennials that might lend some of their enduring characteristics to finger millet. Others have genes for tolerance of heat, cold, drought, and waterlogging, as well as resistance to salinity and an ability to mobilize phosphorus and utilize nitrogen efficiently.10 Less dramatic but more immediately practical plant-breeding needs are the fine-tuning of today's varieties. The most important objectives are resistance to blast,11 helminthosporium (another fungus), striga (parasitic witchweed), lodging, stressful soil and moisture conditions, and grain that can be more easily dehulled and ground. Other objectives might include fast seedling growth to compete better with weeds, shade-tolerant types for relay and intercropping, and types with anthocyanin pigmentation in the leaves (possibly obtainable through 9 This work is beginning at the SADCC/ICRISAT Center at Bulawayo, Zimbabwe (see Research Contacts). 10 These wild relatives are currently being collected by IPGRI, but several that could be part of the primary or secondary gene pool are not yet represented by even a single collection. 11 Recently, a number of blast-resistant types have been selected at ICRISAT and are undergoing yield tests in different sites.
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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains induced mutation), which could be spotted easily in the fields and would make weeding a much easier task.12 Post Production Research Reducing the labor to dehull and to grind grain is obviously a vital need. Less urgent needs include: (1) improvement of malting quality (important both for brewing and for making high-methionine weaning foods); and (2) new methods of processing, such as parboiling, milling, and puffing (see Appendix B). SPECIES INFORMATION Botanical Name Eleusine coracana (L.) Gaertner Common Names Afikaans (and Dutch): vogel gierst Arabic: tailabon Bantu: bule English: finger millet, African millet; koracan French: petit mil, eleusine cultivée, coracan, koracan German: Fingerhirse Swahili: wimbi, ulezi Ethiopia: dagussa (Amharic/Sodo), tokuso (Amharic), barankiya (Oromo) India: ragi Kenya: wimbi (kiswahili), mugimbi (Kikuyu) Malawi: mawere, lipoko, usanje, khakwe, mulimbi, lupodo, malesi, mawe Nepal: koddo The Sudan: tailabon (Arabic), ceyut (Bari) Tanzania: mwimbi, mbege Uganda: bulo Zambia: kambale, lupoko, mawele, majolothi, amale, bule Zimbabwe: rapoko, zviyo, njera, rukweza, mazhovole, uphoko, poho Description Finger millet is a tufted annual growing 40-130 cm tall, taking between 2.5 and 6 months to mature. It has narrow, grass like leaves and many tillers and branches. The head consists of a group of digitately arranged spikes. It is a tetraploid. 12 Information from A. Shakoor.
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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains Distribution Finger millet derives from the wild diploid Eleusine africana.13 There is archaeological evidence that before maize was introduced it was a staple crop of the southern Africa region. Today it is found throughout eastern and southern Africa and is the principal cereal grain in Uganda, where it is planted on more than 0.4 million hectares (especially in northern and western regions), as well as in northeastern Zambia. It is also an important backup "famine food" as far south as Mozambique. Finger millet does not appear to have been adopted in ancient Egypt, and it is said to have reached Europe only about the beginning of the Christian era. However, it arrived in India much earlier, probably more than 3,000 years ago, and now it is an important staple food in some places, particularly in the hill country in the north and the south. Cultivated Varieties Numerous cultivars have been recognized in India and Africa, consisting of highland and lowland forms, dryland and irrigation types, grain and beer types, and early- and late-maturing cultivars. By and large, there are highland races and lowland races—each adapted to its own climate. Environmental Requirements Daylength Finger millet is a short-day plant, a 12-hour photoperiod being optimum for the best-known types. It has been successfully grown in the United States as far north as Davis, California (with considerable problems of photoperiod sensitivity), and it is widely grown in the Himalayas (30°N latitude); however, it is mainly produced within 20°N and 20°S latitude. Daylength-neutral types probably exist. Rainfall It requires a moderate rainfall (500-1,000 mm), well distributed during the growing season with an absence of prolonged droughts. Dry weather is required for drying the grain at harvest. In drier areas with unreliable rainfall, sorghum and pearl millet are better suited. In wetter climates, rice or maize is preferable. Altitude Most of the world's finger millet is grown at intermediate elevations, between 500 and 2,400 m. Its actual altitude limits are unknown. Low Temperature The crop tolerates a cooler climate than other millets. For an African native, this crop is surprisingly well adapted to the temperate zones. 13 This wild ancestor has at least one genome derived from Eleusine indica (Hilu, 1988).
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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains High Temperature Finger millet thrives under hot conditions. It can grow where temperatures are as high as 35°C.14 In Uganda, the crop grows best where the average maximum temperature exceeds 27°C and the average minimum does not fall below 18°C.15 Soil Type The crop is grown on a variety of soils. It is frequently produced on reddish-brown lateritic soils with good drainage but reasonable water-holding capacity. It can tolerate some waterlogging.16 It seems to have more ability to utilize rock phosphate than other cereals do.17 14 Information from J.A. Ayuk-Takem. 15 Thomas, 1970. 16 In recent trials of nine cereal species subjected to waterlogging from seedling to heading, finger millet was the most resistant, except for rice. It resisted waterlogging much better than maize. (Kono et al., 1988.) 17 In pot experiments, the rock phosphate mobilizing capacity increased in the order maize: pearl millet: finger millet. (Flack et al., 1987.)
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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains
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