All posts by Don

Four millets: Recognizing the differences

Millet” can actually refer to any one of several related but distinct kinds of grains, though you wouldn’t know it seeing the term in lists of ingredients, statistics on crop production and trade, or some articles about food and nutrition (for example, this otherwise nice article on FoodTank.org). The good news is that (1) each of these grains – each of these diverse millets – has its own character as a food, and (2) as crops, they are are adapted to a range of drought and soil conditions we will face in the wake of climate change.

So maybe it’s time to stop lumping these grains together as if “millet” were one thing, or marketing one or another type of millet as just “millet,” as we often do in the US, so as to better educate about, and take advantage of, their diversity.

A picture of the grains of these 4 millets from an article in Straits Times follows. For more pictures of the 4 millets, the Whole Grains Council site has a page with some photos.

4 millets
1) Pearl, 2) Proso. 3) Finger, 4) Foxtail.
Image adapted from StraitsTimes.com

As an encouragement to get specific about types of millet, I will profile the four main types in terms of annual production worldwide, in a series of posts on this blog, plus an additional post on other less-widely cultivated millets and the “millet spectrum.” In order of production, the four main millets would be listed as pearl millet, foxtail millet, proso millet, and finger millet. They are important as foods in much of the world, but also grown in some places (like the US) for forage or birdseed.

In the four posts to follow this one, I will first list the two tropical millets which are least known in the West – pearl and finger. We might also call these “Afro-Indian” millets based on their origin and regions of highest production. In my experience in Africa and using flour of these two millets from Indian markets in the US, these millets are used in a range of sweet and savory foods, generally after being milled to flour or cracked, as well as in making alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

Then I list the two that are better known in more temperate regions – foxtail and proso (although foxtail ranges down to South Asia). We might call these “Eurasian” millets, again based on their origins and history. From personal experience in China and the US, these small millets are typically cooked whole, such as in soups or porridges.

None of these grains are limited in how they can be prepared and eaten, but their nutritional profiles are not the same, and I find they have different flavors.

And as crops they also have differences, although millets in general can deal with less than optimal growing conditions, and produce with low inputs. The downside is that their maximum production is not comparable to corn, wheat, or rice.

Pearl millet, for instance, produces in the hot semi-arid Sahel, even on poor soils. According to ICRISAT, this grain “has immense potential for adaptation to the extreme limits of agriculture.” The other “Afro-Indian” millet in our group of four – finger millet is also adaptable crop, though mainly grown in higher altitudes. The two “Eurasian” millets in the group also produce in varied conditions.

A big part of promoting cultivation and consumption of these grains, which are masked under the catchall name “millet,” in regions where they are not widely known like North America, will be educating consumers and farmers about their different character as foods and crops. And a step to succeeding in that, would be policies to distinguish among the millets in food labeling and agricultural statistics.

Towards that end, I will highlight a non-English name as an alternative reference for 3 of the group of 4 – the exception being proso (itself a name of Slavic origin) – with the thoughts that (1) using loan words might help us avoid always lumping all millets together, and (2) the English names are easily confused (especially as there are usually several for each type). Crossed word images for the suggested names are also provided as an aide-mémoire. Two of the names are from India, and one from China: pearl millet as bajri (or bajra); finger millet as ragi; and foxtail millet as xiaomi.

Millet crossword aide-mémoires

Following this post, there will be one post on each of the four main millets, then one more on less-widely cultivated millets and the “millet spectrum.” The next posts in this series are:

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Return of Multidisciplinary Perspectives

After a long hiatus, I am resuming this blog. The reasons for leaving off had to do with a combination of factors – other priorities and technical issues related to falling behind on updating the WordPress.org software.

Updating a really out of date installation (2-point-something to 4.3.1) proved to be less daunting than some sites suggested – including advice to upgrade to an intermediate version before another upgrade to the current one. What I found was that by following the steps for manually updating outlined on the WordPress Codex site, the whole process took around an hour.

Earlier this year I did a brief experiment with reviving the blog on donosborn.WordPress.com, an account established some years ago but never previously used. Despite the convenience of using that service, however, I found I preferred to manage the blog on my own site.

This blog will continue on the same areas (see “Categories” on the right), with an additional focus on policy and planning. Also, the agriculture category does cover food as well (although I may not change the category name).

Finally, with this blog live and again browsable and searchable, I was curious to see who else was using the term “multidisciplinary perspectives” and how. I don’t recall having done this before choosing the name for this blog – it just seemed appropriate, even if a bit generic. It turns out that quite a number of scholars from diverse fields have used this term in titles of articles and books, since at least the early 1980s but much more frequently in the last 5-10 years, certainly reflecting the growing importance of interdisciplinary collaboration. A list (alphabetical by title) of some of those titles follows to give an idea of the range and evident popularity of use:

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CFP: Language and Development 2015

The biennial Language and Development Conference will next be held in New Delhi, India on 18-20 November 2015. The first page of the call for papers is displayed below – note 26 June deadline extended to July 12. For some discussion about the conference see post on Beyond Niamey.

One “deliberately provocative statement” by Debi Prasanna Pattanayak, founder and former director of the Central Institute of Indian Languages, which is featured on page 2 of the CFP, deserves quoting:

In the developed world … two languages are considered a nuisance, three languages uneconomic and many languages absurd. In multilingual countries, many languages are facts of life; any restriction in the choice of language is a nuisance; and one language is not only uneconomic, it is absurd. – D.P. Pattanayak, 1984

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Reviving this blog

I briefly restarted this blog on the donosborn.wordpress.com site that I had reserved in 2008 but not used since then. This was the first post on that site, which now serves as a mirror for the blog. This post is reproduced here to keep the same content on the two sites.

In 2008-2010 I maintained a WordPress blog entitled Multidisciplinary Perspectives on my personal website, donosborn.org. This is a renewal of that effort, which covered a range of topics of personal interest, and complemented my other blog, Beyond Niamey, which focuses on African languages in the “information age.”

The original purpose was as a place to post on several areas of interest and action that were outside the scope of the Beyond Niamey blog. Ive modified these slightly (adding “food” to ag, and an additional item on planning, policy, and theoretical perspectives)’:

  • Agriculture and food
  • Environment and natural resource management (NRM)
  • Education
  • Information and communication technologies (ICT)
  • Languages
  • Development (international, community, and rural)
  • Planning, policy, and theory

The articles posted on the original edition of the blog had the following titles, which together give an idea of the topical range I had and hope to resume:

Aside from the two on the long-tail of languages re-upped on the Beyond Niamey blog, others can be read on Archive.org (enter the site: donosborn.org/blog) the blog itself, which is back.

Present plans are to use this WordPress.com site for the time being, and maybe revert the original blog at a later time (aside from current technical issues there is the question of sustainable maintenance).

Addendum. 15 December 2015

The original Multidisciplinary Perspectives has indeed been brought back, and this site now serves as a mirror for content from it.

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International Decade of Languages proposed

There has been some formal discussion of the idea of an International Decade of Languages at UNESCO‘s General Conference this month in Paris. On 8 October, the representative of Austria, Dr. Claudia Schmied, “welcomed” a proposal apparently made by Hungary for the Decade (I have no information at this time on Hungary’s proposal).

Then in a meeting of the Cultural Commission (as part of the Conference), Venezuela, Chile, and Ethiopia joined Hungary in calling for the United Nations General Assembly to declare an “International Decade of Languages and Multilingualism.” According to Dave Pearson of SIL International, this took place in a discussion of a possible standard-setting instrument for protection of indigenous and endangered languages.

Hopefully there will be follow-up to this proposal. In the meantime, if anyone has references to Hungary’s proposal or information on any other proposals, statements, or discussion re the Decade, please let us know!

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