(L.) Gaertn.] plays an important role in both the dietary needs and incomes of many rural households in Eastern and Southern Africa and South Asia, and accounts for about 12% of the global millet area. Finger millet is rich in fiber, iron and calcium (containing 40 times more calcium than maize and rice, and 10 times more than wheat). It is the most important small millet in the tropics and is cultivated in more than 25 countries in Africa and Asia, predominantly as a staple food grain. The major producers are Uganda, Ethiopia, India, Nepal and China.
Finger millet has high yield potential (more than 5 t/ha under optimum irrigated conditions) and its grain stores very well. Still, like most small millets, finger millet is grown mainly in marginal environments as a rainfed crop with low soil fertility and limited moisture.
The crop is native to the Ethiopian highlands and was introduced into India approximately 4,000 years ago. It is well adapted to higher elevations and is grown in the Himalayan foothills and in the East Africa highlands, up to about 2,300 meters above sea level (masl).
Major constraints to finger millet production include blast disease (caused by Pyricularia grisea, the same pathogen that causes blast disease in rice, pearl millet and many other grasses), the parasitic weed Striga, and abiotic stresses such as drought and low soil fertility.
Research opportunities to be explored include the application of genetic male-sterility as a breeding tool (to make it easier to produce F1, BCnF1, and other types of crosses) to facilitate recurrent selection to develop broad-based and more durable, host-plant resistance to blast, and to produce backcross F1 generations that are large enough to permit exploitation of background selection to hasten recovery of elite recurrent parent background in breeding programs targeting value addition to farmer- and market-preferred finger millet varieties.
The ICRISAT genebank holds nearly 6,000 finger millet germplasm accessions from 24 countries, conserved for use in research and development.