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Millets are an agronomic group of hardy, small seeded cereals important around the globe for food and fodder. Species within the millets include proso, foxtail, barnyard, browntop, finger and pearl millet. Foxtail millet is an ancient crop, first traced in China to about 6,500 BC. Its spread to other regions of the world is most likely due to its drought resistance. Pearl millet originated in Africa and is the hardiest and most important staple food among the millets. It can survive the hottest climates and driest regions, making it a staple food of many poor. Among cereals, millet ranks 6th in world area production behind wheat, maize, rice, barley and sorghum. In sub-Saharan Africa it is the 3rd most widely grown crop. Africa produces 56% of the world output, of which 99.9% is produced in sub-Saharan Africa. The top world producers are India, followed by Nigeria, Niger and Mali. These three African countries alone make up 70% of sub-Saharan Africa’s production. Sudan cultivates large areas of millet, but yields are relatively low (0.3 tons/ha compared to 1.8 tons/ha in Nigeria). Many countries in Eastern Africa use millet together with sorghum to brew beer. Since 1982 land area devoted to millet production in West and Central Africa has increased by more than 90%; yields have increased slower over the same period. Millet is not related to wheat and is, therefore, an appropriate alternative food for people suffering from celiac disease.
Reference to numbers/statistics are from FAOSTAT 2010 for the year 2008