Millet Production Is On the Rise, and So Are the Pests That Eat It
By Jody Green, Ph.D.
Until quite recently, ancient grains like quinoa, sorghum, amaranth, and millet were not considered staples in the kitchen. However, with the increased awareness of the health benefits provided by a diet which includes whole grains, more and more plants are being harvested for their nutrient-rich grains. Millet may be recognized as the small, round, light-colored seed included in many wild bird seed mixes, but it is regularly consumed by people worldwide.
Millets are a group of small-seed grasses grown in many corners of the globe. There are many types of millets and they differ in color, texture, nutritional content, use, and geographical location. Millets are known as “dry crops” because they thrive in parts of the world with short growing seasons and high temperatures and where low rainfall occurs. Millets are very important for crops in Africa and Asia, where they are indigenous and affordable to grow and produce. While millets are grown in the United States, the majority of millet that Americans consume is imported.
This week, Ruparao T. Gahukar, Ph.D., of Arag Biotech in Maharashtra, India, has much of his career dedicated to studying millets in India and west and central Africa. He and Gadi V.P. Reddy, Ph.D., of Montana State University, published a profile of millet insect pests in the open-access Journal of Integrated Pest Management because they saw a need for information on a global scale.
“There hasn’t been a compilation of the economically important insect pests of millet in over 20 years,” says Reddy. “A lot more people in the United States and European countries are consuming millets, so there is an increase in demand and therefore an increase in cultivation and production. An increase in production means there is an increase of insect pests. Minor insect pests are now becoming major pests.”
Like many crops, millets can be attacked by insects in the seedling or mature stage, from the soil, within the stem, and defoliated above ground. It is difficult to pinpoint which insect pests are most significant because it depends on the crop variety, environment, and the insect populations in the geographic region. Millets are known for being hardy and drought-resistant, but insects adapt, and there are at least 150 insect species known to feed on this crop.
Millets are a sustainable food for economically poor people in rural areas and are valued by urban populations for their rich mineral and vitamin content. In many of the countries where millets are grown, integrated pest management (IPM) is not a common or economical practice. Instead, the most common control measure used for pests on millet is insecticide. With the demand for whole grain, gluten-free, organic products, there is a need for IPM in this market. Thus, more research will be critical to determine action thresholds and provide guidelines on best cultural practices, biological control agents, and pheromone-baited traps and to and train and educate farmers. There is an opportunity to have large-scale impact with this (so far) little-known crop.
Reddy and Gahukar have another good reason why they study millets—they enjoy them. “We eat millets,” Reddy says. “We eat millets every day.”
Journal of Integrated Pest Management
Jody Green, Ph.D., is an urban entomology extension educator at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a subject editor and communications editor for the Journal of Integrated Pest Management. Twitter: @JodyBugsMeUNL. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.