Cultivating Millets

Millets are one of the most farmer friendly of crops. In fact in many communities, millets are considered the lazy farmer’s crop! One really needs to do just two things: go to the field to broadcast seeds and then return after 3 months to harvest the grains. Millets require almost no inputs, grow even in extremely low fertility soils, don’t need deep ploughing, can be sown with minimal tools or machines, need only one weeding (if at all). With timely good rains at the right times, the farmer can expect to reap a good harvest. Using some improved techniques and practices, farmers can get a decent harvest even when the rains are not up to par.

Maximum millet cultivation happens in the kharif period, i.e. during the monsoon season. In areas that receive more than 800mm of rains, many of the millets can be cultivated in the second season, i.e. as a rabi crop (during the post monsoon, early winter months). And in some places with the right soil and geography, a few millets can even grow in the third season, during the dark days of winter, drawing on  residual moisture in the soil and the dew that precipitates.

A mixed crop farm in Sitapur, UP
A mixed crop farm in Sitapur, UP, Kharif 2015.

Millets are extremely resistant to pest attacks. This is a characteristic that comes in very handy when planning a mixed crop farm cultivated using non pesticide management techniques. A few rows of millets separating rows of more susceptible leguminous crops is a common practice in farms in different parts of the world.

Millets are in different branches of poaceae, the grasses family. And given their small grain size, when taking up cultivation, one needs to remember that they should not be sown more than two inches deep, and with some soils even shallower sowing would be good. Another aspect that improves the millet crop is sowing it with uniform and appropriate spacing in lines rather than broadcasting. This helps in the plants getting fairly uniform access to resources resulting in a more uniform harvest, increasing the value of such grains significantly for both the market as a well as domestic processing.