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Pennisetum glaucum (Pearl millet, Bulrush millet)

[= Pennisetum americanum, Pennisetum typhoides]

babala, manna [Afrikaans]; leotsa [Pedi]; nyalothi [Sotho]; inyouti [Ndebele]; mhuga, mhungu [Shangaan]; unyaluthi, unyawoti, unyawothi [Zulu]

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Monocotyledons > Order: Poales > Family: Poaceae

Domesticated in Africa about 4000 years ago. Within southern Africa it is the staple cereal in northern Namibia, the Okavango region of Botswana, and southern Angola. One of the main attractions of this species is that it can be cultivated in hot, drought prone areas with unreliable rainfall and hence is the crop of choice is regions experiencing such conditions.

Pearl millet is a tall grass, 1-5 m high, with bulrush-like seed heads. It is native to Africa and was domesticated in this continent about 4000 years ago. By 3000 years ago it was not only being cultivated in Africa but also in India. Main growing regions in Africa include: West Africa (in the Sahel region, extending from Senegal to Sudan), and East Africa through to Malawi, Angola, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. Within southern Africa it is the staple cereal in northern Namibia, the Okavango region of Botswana, and southern Angola. One of the main attractions of this species is that it can be cultivated in hot, drought prone areas with unreliable rainfall and hence is the crop of choice is regions experiencing such conditions. Under rain-fed (i.e. no irrigation) conditions , yields range widely from 250 to 3000 kg per hectare. It is a crop mainly associated with subsistence agriculture and so is rarely grown commercially for sale in shops.

Crops are vulnerable to attack by seed-eating birds because the heads or ears take a few weeks to ripen. Harvesting entails cutting off the mature head, drying it and storing it until it is needed.

Uses

  • Flour. Flour is produced in a two-step process: first the grain is pounded with water to produce a sticky mass that is then dried; this ground up material is then pounded a second time to produce flour of a fine enough consistency. Such flour is used in making porridge or as an ingredient in a wide range of traditional dishes.
  • Malt for beer. Malting entails allowing grain to sprout, which causes the conversion of starches to sugars. Grains are soaked in cold water for 24 hours and then left to sprout until plumules are about 25 mm long. The sprouted grain is dried in the sun, ground into a coarse flour, which is then mixed with water and left to ferment. This alcohol-containing liquid then undergoes further processing to produce beer.

Publications

  • van Wyk, B.-E. & Gericke, N. 2000. People's Plants. A Guide to Useful Plants of Southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.  

 

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