North American Millets Alliance is a social benefit (non-profit) initiative dedicated to promoting millets as resilient crops and nutritious foods in the US and neighboring countries during and after the International Year of Millets (2023).
The term “millet” in English applies to about a dozen cultivated species from different branches of the grass family (like wheat, corn, and rice, but not buckwheat or quinoa). Millets have small roundish seeds or grains that differ in size, color, taste, and nutrition profiles. These crops also serve a number of other purposes, such as feed and forage for animals.
The diverse millets were domesticated as crops in various locations of Eurasia and Africa in the distant past, and remain important in many regions and cultures of those continents, even as farmers, food processors, and consumers have shifted to wheat, corn, and rice.
However, millets are now receiving more attention worldwide, due to both their adaptation to difficult environmental conditions (such as heat and lack of water), and their qualities as food (high nutritive values, gluten-free, and low glycemic index).
The International Year of Millets (IYM) was proposed by India and other countries, with support of the UN FAO, and adopted by a UN General Assembly resolution in March 2021. Its principal object is to support increase of cultivation, marketing, and consumption of millets, especially among smallholder farmers (including women farmers) in what are called “developing countries.”
We believe that IYM also provides a great opportunity to increase awareness of and interest in millets in North America.
Although there is evidence that early Native Americans consumed and grew native Setaria species (same genus as foxtail millet), discussions of millet cultivation in this region generally begin with species introduced by Europeans.
Foxtail millet (Setaria italica) and proso millet (Panicum miliaceum) were brought to what is now the US in the 18th century. In the late 1800s, there was a boom in foxtail cultivation in the US, and at about the same time, proso was introduced in the Great Plains, where it has become a significant crop. Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) was introduced in the US in the 19th century, and teff (Erograstis tef; it is considered a millet) in the 20th.
Proso (mijo) and foxtail (panizo) may have been introduced to Mexico at an earlier period. The only millet cultivated on a significant scale in Canada is proso. (Seeking more information on these histories.)
Currently, most millets cultivated in the region are for animal feed or forage. Proso (generally marketed as “millet” without modifier) and teff are also grown for human consumption.
The greatest variety of millets for food in this region currently come via imports, notably from India (many millets and products made with them), China (foxtail and proso, including glutinous varieties), West Africa (fonio), and the Horn of Africa (teff). These respond to what are sometimes termed “niche markets,” and tend to be sold at specialty stores and online.
In general, we expect that North America will grow more millets for various uses, and will consume more millets as food from various sources (including imports, and likely greater domestic production in response to demand). The IYM offers a context in which to focus attention on how to address numerous interrelated factors in these dynamics: food culture, product development, crop research & extension, nutrition education, business development, and product labeling, among others.
The website contents you are viewing are temporary – a full site is envisioned.
Image credits: The current logo at the head of the page is by JKM. The image in the section on IYM is adapted from one at Globalgreenews.com. The divider lines are composed of snippets of images of grains of four millets – proso, finger, foxtail, & pearl, repeated.
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If you would like to participate in discussion about IYM and millets, please consider joining the “Collab” (for collaboration) list at: https://lists.millets2023.space/mailman/listinfo/collab
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