Six reasons to stop under-valuing millet

Millet ©FAO/Aldo Youssouf

Millets encompass a diverse group of small-grained, dryland cereals including foxtail, barnyard and fonio, among others.  As whole grains, millets are a good source of essential nutrients.

Millets are primarily grown in Asia and Africa, with India being the top producer followed by Nigeria, Niger and China. They were among the first plants to be domesticated and still serve as a traditional staple crop in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

These crops, rooted in ancient cultures and ancestral traditions, have long survived harsh growing conditions. Their climate resilience and adaptability offer opportunities for strengthening food security and bolstering economic growth.

Finger millet. Photo by Kilimo News

Here are six key reasons why millets deserve our attention and a place on our tables according to FAO:

1. Millets are there when others are not.

There is an ever-growing global population that needs sufficient and healthy food amidst climate emergencies and depleting natural resources. Millets can be part of the solution. These grains can survive harsh climate conditions, offering solutions to food scarcity. Because they are often the only crops that can be harvested in dry seasons, millets can be a vital food source for populations vulnerable to food insecurity.

2. Millets can contribute to a healthy diet.

Millets provide antioxidants, minerals and protein. As whole grains, each millet variety also offers different types and amounts of fibre, which play a role in regulating bowel function, blood sugar and lipids.

Furthermore, millets are gluten-free with a low-glycaemic index making them a great food option for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, high-blood sugar or diabetes. They can also be a cost-effective source of iron. Incorporating millets in our diets can provide us with nutritious and healthy alternatives to the usual refined grains in the global market. Start exploring some millet recipes, such as this finger millet pancakes option, to revamp your diet.

Finger millet flour. Photo by Kilimo News

3. Millets are climate-resilient.

Millets are resistant to drought and tolerant to crop diseases and pests, allowing them to survive in adverse climatic conditions.

Because millets can be grown with minimal inputs and maintenance and can adapt to climate shocks, expanding production of millets can transform local agrifood systems to be more efficient, resilient and inclusive.  The ability of millets to grow in poor, degraded soils can also provide land cover in arid areas, reducing soil degradation and supporting biodiversity.

4. Millets offer promising livelihood opportunities for small-scale farmers.

As other cereals have become widespread, dietary preferences have shifted and led to a decline in the production and demand for millets. By encouraging the consumption and production of these underutilized crops, we can help millets regain market share and create additional opportunities for small-scale farmers.

Millet flour. Photo by Kilimo News

5. Millets’ trade can improve the diversity of the global food system.

Currently, millets account for less than three percent of the global grains trade. When sudden shocks affect the foodgrain market, millets can provide a valuable alternative to typically traded grains. This added diversity can improve the resilience of the global trade markets and mitigate our reliance on other grains. 

6. Millets can be used in many innovative ways.

The genetic diversity of millets lends itself to many diverse and innovate applications of millets in areas such as therapeutics and pharmaceuticals. Used innovatively, millets offer even greater market opportunities for regional and international trade.

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