Pearl Millet is an important coarse grain crop in Pakistan specially in areas where drought is common, despite its economic importance this crop has received little attention compared with wheat, rice and maize. It is grown in most districts south of latitude 34 0N, but is particularly important in: Gujrat, Gujranwala, Chakwal, Mianwali, Bahawalnagar, Bahawalpur, Rawalpindi, Attock and Jhelum in Punjab; Hyderabad, Khairpur, Dadu, Nawabshah and Sanghar in Sindh; Lorali, Khuzdar and Sibbi in Balochistan; and Bunnu, Karak, D.I.Khan in NWFP.
Rotation and Crop Association
In the irrigated and relatively high-rainfall areas, a millet – wheat rotation is common. However, in some parts of Sindh, two-year rotations of millet-wheat-cotton-fallow, or millet-spring maize-rice-brassica are also followed. In the unirrigated areas which are too dry for other crops, millet may be grown on the same piece of land each year. Mostly millet is grown as a sole crop, but sometimes it is intercropped with other crops such as sesame, mong and mellon in the plains of Baluchistan and with guar and mellon in NWFP.
Tractors are increasingly being used for land preparation, but bullock power is still important in millet growing areas. The recommended practice is to plough the land twice immediately after harvest to burry the stubbles and weeds, and once or twice at sowing to prepare a fine seed bed followed by planking to conserve moisture. However, land preparation is usually inadequate, particularly in moisture-stress areas farmed by resource-poor farmers, where the land is usually ploguhed only once.
In the rainfed “barani” areas, millet is sown with the start of monsoon rains, usually during the first fortnight of July. In areas irrigated by hill torrents, e.g. in D.G. Khan, D.I. Khan and the plains of Baluchistan, the sowing period is usually from mid- July to mid-August, depending on the arrival of the flood water. In central Punjab, irrigated millet, mainly for fodder, is grwon from May to July. In Sindh, millet for fodder may be grwon from February to July, but for grain production, sowing is delayed to June-July to avoid flowering in July-August when the temperatures are extremely high.
Different sowing methods are used. The most common are:i) broadcasting the seeds and covering them by a cultivator;ii) the “Kera” method of dropping the seed by hand in furrows created by a bullock – drawn plough and covered by feet; & iii) “Pora” method in which a locally made sort of a single- row drill pulled by bullock or man is used. Broadcasting is the quickest and cheapest sowing method, but it often results in uneven germination due to placement of seeds at different depths.
Different seed rates are used depending on the variety, moisture level and relative importance of grain and forage. For grain production, the seed rate commonly used is 10-12 kg/ha. For fodder production, the seed rate is used as 20-30 kg/ha.
The number and frequency of irrigations vary with the climatic and soil conditions and growth duration of the variety. Usually, four to five irrigations are sufficient in most areas of the country.
As far as application of inputs to millet crop is concerned, this crop has been neglected. Most of the farmers plant this crop on marginal lands and use no fertilizer. However the recommended dose of fertilzer is 90 kg Nitrogen and 45 kg P2 O5 for irrigated areas and 60 kg Nitrogen and 30 kg P2 O5 for rainfed areas.
No herbicides are used. In case of the kera and pora methods of sowing, weeds may be controlled by interculture using the desi plough. When sowing is done by broadcasting, only hand weeding is feasible.
Diseases of Pearl Millet
Millet crop is attacked by several diseases including, downy mildew, grain molds and covered kernel smut. Although covered smut can be easily and cheaply controlled by treating the seed with fungicide but no such treatment is used, and heavy incidence of this disease is reported particularly in Sindh province.
Pearl millet crop takes 80 to 90 days to mature depending on the variety. Therefore when the crop is planted in 1st week of July becomes ready for harvesting by the end of September or 1st week of October. The mature heads are cut manually using sickles. The cut heads are spread on clean floor for sun drying. In most areas, threshing is done by walking animals over the harvested heads. Some grain is usually lost due to the inefficient harvesting method. No thresher has been developed for this crop so far.
The factors responsible for low productivity of millet in Pakistan are:
- Grain millet is grown mainly in marginal areas under moisture stress conditions.
- The varieties grown are mostly unimproved mixed land-races grown for both grain and fodder production but are poor producers for either purpose.
- The plant stands, particularly in rainfed areas, are usually poor because of inadequate land preparation, in-efficient sowing method, poor quality seeds and poor emergence through hot, dry crusted soil surface.
- The soil fertility in most of the millet growing areas is depleted and no fertilizers are added.
- Weeds can be a serious problem, especially in the rainfed areas where heavy rains during July and August may preclude weeding. No proper weeding is done for control of weeds.
- Millet is also attacked by several diseases including, Downy mildew, Grain molds and Covered kernel smut. Although covered smut can be easily and cheaply controlled by treating the seed with fungicide but no such treatment is used, and heavy incidence of this disease is reported particularly in Sindh province.
Although some high-yielding exotic varieties have been identified, and some have even been released, these have not yet been spread among farmers, either because of intrinsic shortcomings (such as poor grain quality, short stature resulting in low fodder yield, late maturity & poor germination, emergence and establish-ment under moisture-stress conditions) or because they have not been adequately tested and demonstrated in farmers fields and there is no efficient seed production and distribution system. Thus mostly mixed local land races are grown in Pakistan at present. Detail of the improved varieties of millet developed by different Provincial Cooperating Research Institutes of Cooperating Research Programme on Sorghum and Millet is given here under:-