About 3,000 years ago pearl millet crossed the Indian Ocean and became a vital contributor to South Asia's food supplies. Today it is India's fourth most important cereal, surpassed only by rice, wheat, and sorghum. Bajra, as it is called, is currently grown on almost 10 percent of India's food-grain area, and it yields about 5 percent of the country's cereal food. Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh account for nearly 80 percent of the 14 million hectares planted and 70 percent of the 5 million tons of pearl millet grain produced each year.
India's farmers grow some pearl millet under irrigation during the hot, dry months and routinely reap harvests as high as 3 or 4 tons per hectare. But most grow it in the arid areas, particularly where the rainfall is just insufficient for sorghum or maize. Here, the soils are usually depleted in fertility and there is no irrigation. Some plots receive as little as 150 mm of rainfall per year. But pearl millet survives and produces food.
Bajra-growing areas in the Subcontinent. (ICRISAT, 1987; each dot represents 20,000 hectares)