A native crop of Africa, finger millet has been harvested for approximately five thousand years in Ethiopia and Uganda. While crop production of finger millet in Africa has been steadily declining, India has increased its yield of finger millet by 50 percent over the last 50 years. Finger millet is thought to have been introduced to India approximately 4,000 years ago. In India, finger millet is known as ragi.
Predominantly produced in Africa and Asia, finger millet can also be cultivated in the United States and other parts of the world. Finger millet grows best in humid areas and altitudes above 1,000 meters. During dry season, finger millet will remain dormant until it rains again. If finger millet is stored in a dry space, the seeds can remain fertile for 10 to 50 years. Once wet, finger millet is ready to harvest in 45 days.
In addition to having a long storage capability, finger millet is a popular crop because of its high nutritional value. Finger millet can be used to make various foods including porridge, flatbread, and popped millet. Porridge is made by boiling the grains in water until it is a thick consistency. Grinding the harvested seeds into flour can serve as an ingredient for bread and other baked goods. In Uganda, finger millet made into bread is used to celebrate the new harvest with visitors and neighbors. Finger millet can also be used to make malt, Ethiopian liquor, arake, and beer.
One of the reasons that finger millet production has declined in Africa is because harvesting finger millet is labor intensive. Not only are the crops cut by hand with a knife, the seeds are very small and difficult to handle. When grown through the natural process of self-pollination, weeds can be difficult to separate from finger millet. In recent years, new machinery has been developed in India to make harvesting a more appealing process. Crops are also planted in rows to make weeding limited if not unnecessary.
The combination of nutrition content and more efficient production processes has begun to revitalize finger millet in Africa. Organizations such as the Mupo Foundation are spreading the word about the nutritious benefits of finger millet through workshops within the community. Additionally, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture is working with Maseno University develop better planting and harvesting strategies.
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