Inflorescence: the complete flower head of a plant including stems, stalks, bracts, and flowers, the arrangement of the flowers on a plant.   Panicle: a loose branching cluster of flowers.

Millet (Pennisetum glaucum) was domesticated about 4000 – 5000 years ago. This was along the central highland of the Sahara. It is now largely distributed in the semiarid tropics of Africa and Asia. The plant can grow to a height of 50 – 400 cm if all the conditions are favourable. The leaves are slender and smooth and/or hairy with a yellowish-green to deep purple colour. Millet flowers 40 – 55 days from planting. The stems tiller freely and produce inflorescences with a spike like panicle which is about 35 cm long and 2.5 cm in diameter.

The two types of millet grown commonly are Bulrush Millet and Finger Millet.

Although Millet is not traded much on the world market it is one of the most important small grain cereals of the tropics. Finger Millet is believed to be the cultivated form of Crow Foot grass (Eleusine indica) which is common in the tropics and appears as a weed on cultivated lands and roadsides. It is thought to have been introduced into Central Africa from Asia and is grown in Central and Southern Africa, India, Malaysia and China and is an important traditional African food crop.



This variety can be used for the grain and forage. The growth period is 80 – 85 days and grows to a height of 2 – 2,1 m. The grain has a dark grey colour with the grain being large and is resistant to downey mildew.


This is a forage type variety that has high sugar content. It is drought resistant that has a very quick germination rate.


This is also a forage variety which is high yielding and suited to growing in sandy soils. It is prussic acid free therefore making it suitable to feed to animals, especially horses.

The commercial crop is a mixture of stable strains. Strain differences occur in both seed colour and the type of inflorescence. Grain colour may be white, brown or red, and local growers consider the white types to be taller, earlier maturing and higher yielding, although the brown types are preferred because it makes better beer and porridge.


Finger Millet requires a fairly long growing season. The average time from germination to maturity is 150 days. Under dry conditions it can ripen in 120 days and the crop is fairly drought-resistant once it is established.

It will give a reasonable yield with 380 mm rainfall and can be grown in areas as low as 250mm where early maturing varieties are normally used. It can grow in areas that receive as much as 1500 mm of rainfall but for best results the crop requires maximum moisture about 10 weeks after germination. Finger Millet is tolerant of wet weather but requires dry sunny weather to ripen and harvest.

Reasonable yields can be obtained on soils too poor for maize, but best results are obtained on fertile soils varying from sands to fairly heavy clays. High organic matter content is better on light soils to improve the soil structure and the moisture holding capacity of the soil. Millet does not tolerate waterlogged soils and should be avoided.

The land should be ploughed early and deep to give a fine, firm seed bed which allows for an even planting depth and germination.


Finger Millet seems to thrive on fairly acid soils. Usually little fertilizer is applied to the crop, but will respond to fertilizer applications.

Table 1: The following recommendations are made to achieve the best yields from the crop.

Nitrogen  0 – 30kg/ha30 – 50kg/ha50 – 80kg/ha
Phosphorus20 – 30kg/ha30 – 60kg/ha60 – 90kg/ha
Potassium  030 – 50kg/ha50 – 90kg/ha



Seed should be dressed with a suitable seed dressing before sowing to prevent insect damage at germination. The best planting times is from early October to December depending on prevailing climatic conditions.

Seed can be sown by broadcasting at the rate of 10 – 15 kg per ha, although this can be unsatisfactory because of uneven germination and the difficulty of weed control. Best results are obtained by sowing in rows 900mm apart using wheat drill, maize planter or by hand. Planting depth should be 12 mm and the seeding rate 5 – 10 kg/ha. The seeds are small and should be planted shallow in a fine seed bed to obtain a good soil seed contact. After planting, the land should be rolled to press the soil down around the small seeds.

Seed planted in moist soil will germinate in 10 days provided the conditions are favourable. Optimum soil temperature for germination is 17ºC. Cool soils lead to reduced emergence and weed pressure. The desired plant population is between 100 000 and 175 000 plants/ha. The young plants cannot stand much competition from weeds and the land should be kept clean by inter-row cultivations by hand or tractor. It is difficult to keep a broadcast crop clear of weeds except by laborious hand pulling.


No diseases of economic importance attack the crop, but the following pests can cause damage:


This is a colourless, legless grub which attacks the base of the young plants.Control is by seed dressing.

Figure 1: Seed corn maggot

Source: ent.iastate


 These will attack the crop in preference to any other crop.

Figure 2: Army worm

Source: extension.missouri


Will eat the grains when they are ripe before they have been harvested.

Figure 3: Quelea Birds

Source: leesbirdblog.files.wordpress


Attack the crop and can be controlled by spraying.


Prior to the main harvest, seed for the next season should be selected from strong growing plants in the land. Provided it is stored in the head (i.e. un-threshed) the seed will remain good for at least 2 years. The grain is ready to be harvested as soon as 40 days of flowering, or the crop reaches a moisture content of below 15%. Seed should then be further dried to a moisture content of between 10 – 12% to avoid storage moulds.

When Finger Millet is grown on a small scale, the heads are cut off by hand with the use of a knife, leaving the straw standing. This is a slow operation, taking 40 – 50 man days per hectare. The heads should be dried in the sun for a few days before threshing although it is   necessary only if the grain is required for planting, grinding, brewing or for sale. The heads can be stored un-threshed and will keep for up to 4 years without being attacked by insects, but the quality will decrease by about 50% when it is 2 years old. Therefore grain needed for seed or malting must not be kept for more than 18 months. Threshing can be done by hand by an adjusted maize sheller or the un-threshed heads put through a hammer mill. The crop can be combined as the grain does not fall out of the heads on ripening and combining can wait until the whole crop has ripened.

Adjustments need to be made to allow the harvester to thresh the small seed of millet. With good management yields should average 2 – 2.5 tons per hectare.

Millet can also be used as a forage or silage crop provided that it is mixed with 2% molasses and is not recommended for forage or hay. Millet silage is suited to mechanical harvest and can be done when the heads appear.

The crop can be grazed and should be done when the crop reaches a height of 400 – 600 mm. It should not be over grazed so that 150 mm is left on the plant. Regrowth will be slow and valuable grazing time will be lost if the crop is over grazed.


Finger Millet is grown mainly for home consumption, both as a food grain and for Brewing beer. Strong beer and weak beer are made and the residues can be fed to pigs. When ground into flour the grain is made into cakes or porridge. A small proportion of the crop is sold to maltsters for brewing in the African areas. It is also bartered, as it has a high barter value, 1 bag of millet being worth 2 bags of maize.

Table 2: Finger millet has a lower nutritional value than maize and sorghum but it is much richer in calcium. A comparative analysis is shown in the following table:

Dry Matter87899090
Crude Protein7.010108.5

Millet is a useful stockfeed. Trials carried out showed that millet can replace maize in fattening rations for steers, fed to poultry and used to replace up to three-quarters of the maize in pig rations.