Finger millet, figured among the six small millets in research portfolio of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), has now been formally made its mandate crop. This is an important recognition for a crop which has been an integral part of ICRISAT’s research portfolio.
Dr David Bergvinson, Director General, ICRISAT said in Hyderabad, India, “Finger millet has always been within our mandate crops but we want to provide greater visibility to this nutri-cereal that offers so much to both smallholders in the form of economic opportunity and to consumers (including farming households) in the form of improved nutrition.”
The ICRISAT genebank holds nearly 6,000 finger millet germplasm accessions from 24 countries, conserved for use in research and development.
The high nutrient millet is a tropical crop which is grown in the dryland areas. Thus, it has tremendous potential in Indian drylands and rainfed regions where irrigation facilities are not available. It would not only convert the non agricultural drylands in India as agricultural land, but also provide a food of high nutrient value and source of livelihood in these areas.
In the Indian state of Karnataka, finger millet is among the ‘climate smart’ crops that figures high on the agenda of the government.
Among the ICRISAT projects that focus on finger millet, the Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement of Sorghum and Millets in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia (HOPE) project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is showing encouraging results in improving productivity of finger millet and household incomes in East Africa. This was achieved by enabling farmers to adopt improved varieties and associated agronomic practices and linking producers to both input and product markets.
In Malawi, the introduction of three finger millet varieties highly valued by farmers is expected to resurrect a crop that had ‘disappeared’ from the southern region of the country. Farmers wanted access to seeds of Gulu E, ACC 32 and KNE 1124 varieties, so that they can start growing the crop again.
At a recent field day in Kenya, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization and ICRISAT displayed six elite varieties of finger millet for participatory varietal selection by farmers. Finger millet variety U15 was the most preferred for its early maturity and grain colour, while IE 3779 was preferred for its resistance to blast disease and tolerance to lodging. Through a multi-institutional collaboration, ICRISAT scientists in East and Southern African region have generated a whole genome sequence of finger millet. This opens a new chapter in future breeding of this nutritious crop.
Along with its partners, ICRISAT is targeting commercial production of finger millet, diversification of household-level diets, value addition and processing for food, feed and industry. Efforts are being made to pilot and incubate small and medium entrepreneurs from among the farmer groups and individuals to develop products for the market.