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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains
concoctions in mind. But for pearl millet to sell in a big way in Africa it must be good for very different foods. In Africa (as well as in India), the major pearl millet foods are unfermented bread, fermented breads, thick and thin porridges, steam-cooked products, beverages, and snacks. Little or no information is currently available on which pearl millets have the best properties for each of these foods. This is a handicap. Undoubtedly, superior types exist and collections and investigations should be made in the houses of the users themselves. As we have said in the previous chapter, however, it is difficult to quantify, let alone breed for, the organoleptic properties of certain foodstuffs.
Contrary to general opinion and oft-repeated statements in textbooks, pearl millet is one of the more nutritious of the common cereals. As has been noted, its grain has more fat than most, and its level of food energy (784 kilocalories per kg) is among the highest for whole-grain cereals. It also has more protein, and its level of the essential amino acid lysine is better than in most cereals.
However, some pearl millet grain may suffer (nutritionally speaking) because it is low in threonine and the sulfur-containing amino acids. Also, its lysine level could still be improved. Of course, the other major grains have the same defect, but in the last few decades high-lysine types have been found in maize, sorghum, and barley. It seems likely that a diligent search through the world's pearl millets with an amino-acid analyzer could disclose something similar.
As already mentioned, the development of maize hybrids in the 1930s led to a quadrupling of yields. A similar breakthrough, allowing the practical production of pearl millet hybrids, came in the late 1960s, when the first hybrids were created.8 High-yielding, hybrids have been in use in India since 1966. Heterosis (hybrid vigor) in pearl millet can be substantial.9 Indian scientists have succeeded in developing hybrids that can almost double the yield of local cultivars.10
These were developed in the United States by Glenn Burton.
Naturally, the types used to make the hybrid must be genetically diverse. The common finding that the hybrids show no increase in vigor apparently is owing to the fact that the types crossed were too closely related. Information from W. Hanna.
In India, hybrid millets are used almost exclusively in irrigated farming. The yields can be spectacular, but they are not relevant to most of Africa's pearl millet production. Even in India, dryland farmers still use the nonhybrid forms.