Millets show promise for dietary diversification in arid, saline environments
Researchers at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) are evaluating different nutritious and resilient crops for dietary diversification and adaptability in marginal environments such as the UAE.
Research has been under way since 2021 at ICBA’s experimental fields in Dubai to identify, evaluate and introduce diverse nutritious and resilient food crops that adapt well to harsh environmental conditions and can be used for dietary diversification.
Under the project titled “Evaluation of diverse and nutrient-rich, climate-resilient crops/accessions for dietary diversification in marginal environments”, ten food crops such as pearl millet, finger millet, foxtail millet, fonio, proso millet, barnyard millet, buckwheat, moth bean and spices (cumin and ajwain) have been tested under varying salinity conditions.
These crops were selected for their high nutritional profile, resilience to salinity, drought and/or heat, and adaptability to diverse cropping systems.
Based on preliminary results, finger millet, foxtail millet, pearl millet and proso millet were identified as promising and adapted to drought and varying levels of saline water in desert environments.
According to the researchers, all four crops could contribute to a healthy diet. For example, finger millet is rich in methionine and contains high dietary fiber and minerals, while foxtail millet serves as a rich source of calories, protein, vitamin B and iron. Also, pearl millet and proso millet are both excellent sources of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals.
What is more, most of the millets in their natural form are generally gluten-free, making them the best fit for dietary diversification.
For this study, the researchers used 20 top-performing cultivars of finger millet, foxtail millet and pearl millet, as well as 25 cultivars of proso millet to conduct replicated trials under varying water salinity and irrigation conditions during the 2022 growing season.
The findings are important for creating awareness about millets, especially in view of the upcoming International Year of Millets. To be celebrated in 2023, the International Year of Millets will promote millets as a key component of the food basket, and advance the implementation of SDGs 2, 3, 12 and 13.
The study aims to provide data on the consistency of the cultivars’ performance on a large scale and their stability, and the best-performing cultivars from each of the four crops will be promoted for release and commercialization to boost food and feed security in marginal environments.