A team of researchers has zeroed in on little millet germplasm with high nutrients, high yield and biomass potential following analysis of the crop’s 200 landraces conserved at ICRISAT’s Genebank in India. These landraces hold the key to developing nutritious and high-yielding varieties of the crop, which can prove significant for food systems in drylands facing changing climate, the scientists say.
The ICRISAT Genebank conserves 473 accessions of little millet landraces collected from different parts of India, and a few from Cameroon, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Researchers examined 200 of these for over two years and characterized them for nutrition (calcium, iron, zinc and protein), yield and biomass. They found 10 accessions with promising seed weight, 15 with high grain yield potential, 15 with high biomass yield potential and 30 with consistently high grain nutrients.
One of the many millets, little millet is grown on nearly 0.26 million hectares in India, which produced about 0.12 million tons in 2018. Given its constitution, little millet can be consumed in various forms and can substitute rice as it can cook faster than other millets and it tastes similar to rice. It can also be milled into flour for use in baked or other foods. Little millet is a smart food- food that is good for consumers, hardy and thus good for farmers and environmentally sustainable.
“Consumption of 100 g of little millet grains can potentially contribute to the recommended dietary allowance of up to 28% Fe, 37% Zn and 27% protein,” the researchers wrote while referring to the crop’s nutritional benefits in their study published recently.
“Small millets, including little millet, are known for their climate-resilient features, including diverse adaptation and low water requirements. They are minimally affected by insect pests and diseases, and thus are minimally vulnerable to environmental stresses,” said Dr Mani Vetriventhan, Senior Scientist at ICRISAT Genebank and the study’s first author.
“The ICRISAT Genebank conserves over 128,000 accessions of ICRISAT’s mandate crops including over 11,700 accessions of six small millets. The large diversity in the collection for stress tolerance and nutritional qualities highlights the importance of the genebank’s collection to achieve sustainable development goals to end hunger and malnutrition. Researchers can obtain the trait-specific germplasm identified in this study and other germplasm in line with standard procedures,” said Dr Vania Azevedo, Head, ICRISAT Genebank, and one of the study’s authors.
Though the production of millets in India has stagnated over decades owing to falling demand, lack of investment and weak value chains, rising awareness of the health benefits of millets has renewed consumer interest in recent years.
“The wide prevalence of malnutrition and changing consumer preferences for healthy foods underline the importance of bringing back the neglected, underutilized but traditionally important crops such as small millets into the food basket for food and nutrition security,” Dr Vetriventhan added.
It is hoped that the recent declaration of 2023 as the ‘International Year of Millets’ will help bring more attention to the multifold benefits of these nutricereals and prompt more consumers to diversify diets nutritionally even as more farmers take to producing them with stronger support systems in place.
The study, Variability and trait-specific accessions for grain yield and nutritional traits in germplasm of little millet, was authored by Drs Mani Vetriventhan, Hari D Upadhyaya, Vania CR Azevedo, Victor Allan Jayapal and S Anitha. It was published by Crop Science. An abstract of it is available here.
The research work was done as part of CGIAR Genebank Platform, which supports the core activities of the CGIAR genebanks to conserve collections of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.
Written by Rohit Pillandi. Vania Azevedo and Mani Vetriventhan contributed to the writing of this article.