Millet Production and Use

Millet plants at UC Berkeley's Gill Tract
Millet plants at UC Berkeley’s Gill Tract

This is my second post about millet, a class of grains that doesn’t get much attention.  The first post gave some background on millet and UC Berkeley’s Millet Project, and can be found here: The Millet Project Looks at the Nutritious, Drought Tolerant, Gluten-Free Grains Called Millet.

After learning about the Millet Project, millet’s attractive features, its history, and how people eat it, I wanted to find out more about this fascinating group of plants. Where is it grown? Who eats it?

Since this was an international question, I pointed my browser to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and found their statistical collection (FAOSTAT). (For domestic U.S. statistics, I usually start at the USDA Economic Research Service or National Agricultural Statistics Service).

Millet In Three Charts and One Map

In this age of globalization and homogenization, millet is one of a few staple foods that has a sharp geographical concentration:  it is the primary staple along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. And with this concentration, millet is a minor grain on the world stage: in 2014, only 27 million tonnes were produced, compared with 741 million tonnes of rice, 729 million tonnes of wheat and 1,038 million tonnes of maize [1] (1 tonne = 1,000 kg = 2,200 pounds).

To further explore millet, I thought I’d try the “story” tool from Tableau Public, which puts a collection of figures and captions into a single embedded container. To navigate between figures, click the arrows on the right and left, or  click the caption box. If you hover your mouse over a box or country, a “data tip” will show you more about that location.  For easier viewing, I also uploaded a wider version of the Millet Production and Use story to my Tableau profile.

The first figure shows the net production in each country. In terms of overall production, India is by far the largest producer, with almost four times the next country (Niger). However, if we look at production on a per capita basis (second figure), the top 10 producers are in Africa (India is number 12). The third figure shows per capita production on a world map, clearly showing the “millet band” across the center of Africa, just south of the Sahara. The fourth and final figure shows per capita food use. Niger is by far the leader, with over 160 kg per person per year., which “represents about 75 percent of total cereal food consumption” [2]   For reference, the average U.S. diet includes about 88 kg per person per year of grains (wheat, rice, maize, and oats) [3].

The millet belt shares two important characteristics: little rainfall and little income. The figure below shows average annual precipitation rates for each country — the millet band in the Tableau story above corresponds with the light yellow low precipitation band across the middle of Africa, where rainfall is less than 300 mm/year.  Per capita incomes in the millet band are relatively low:  Niger $427, Burkina Faso $725, Mali $701 (for reference: United States $54,306, China $7,616) [4]. As explained in the previous post on the Millet Project, millet is a drought tolerant plant that grows reasonably well without large fertilizer inputs, so it is an excellent plant for an arid region without a well-financed agricultural system.

Precipitation map by average annual precipitation
Map of average annual precipitation from Wikipedia, by Atila Kagan

Image Credit
Map of average annual precipitation from Wikipedia, by Atila Kagan, used under the terms of a CC BY-SA 4.0 license (no modifications were made)

[1] FAOSTAT (Return to text)
[2] The World Sorghum and Millet Economies: Facts, Trends and Outlook, a joint study by the
Basic Foodstuffs Service FAO Commodities and Trade Division and the Socioeconomics and Policy Division International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Return to text)
[3] USDA Food Availability Data System (Return to text)
[4] United Nations Statistics Division (Return to text)

Production, export and import data for 2014 from FAOSTAT.  Population data used in per capita calculation from United Nations, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

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