Prota 1: Cereals and pulses/Céréales et légumes secs
Bull. Jard. Bot. Etat. 9(3): 181 (1932).
2n = 18, 36
Pseudobrachiaria deflexa (Schumach.) Launert (1970).
Guinea millet, animal fonio, false signal grass (En). Fonio à grosses graines, gros fonio, millet de Guinée, kolo rassé (Fr). Jégé (Po).
Origin and geographic distribution
Guinea millet is a semi-domesticated weed of the African savanna. It is found from Cape Verde and Senegal eastward to Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia and southward to South Africa; it also occurs in western Asia to Pakistan and India.
Guinea millet is considered to belong to the ‘kreb’ grasses, a group of grasses occurring in the Sahel region and collected for human consumption, especially in time of food shortage. In the Fouta Djallon Highlands on the Guinea-Mali border the grain of a cultivated type is ground into flour used to make cakes and fritters. Guinea grass provides excellent forage.
Guinea millet has soft grains that are easily ground into flour.
Annual grass up to 70(–100) cm tall; stems (culms) solitary or tufted, slender, often weak and ascending. Leaves alternate, simple and entire; leaf sheath pale, striate, finely pubescent; ligule ciliate; blade broadly linear to narrowly lanceolate, 4–25 cm × 0.5–2.5 cm, velvety pubescent. Inflorescence panicle-like, composed of 5–15 racemes borne on an axis 6–15 cm long; racemes distant, widely spreading, 2–10 cm long, often with side-branches, bearing mostly paired distant spikelets. Spikelet up to 15 mm long stalked, broadly elliptical, 2–3.5 mm long, glabrous to pubescent, acute, 2-flowered with lower floret male or sterile and upper bisexual; lower glume up to half as long as spikelet, upper glume as long as spikelet, membranous, 7-veined; lemma of lower floret membranous, lemma of upper floret wrinkled and acute; palea of upper floret obtuse to acute; stamens 3; ovary superior, with 2 stigmas. Fruit a caryopsis (grain), ellipsoid, compressed.
Brachiaria comprises about 100 species distributed in the tropics and subtropics, mainly in the Old World. It has been proposed that Brachiaria be nearly completely reduced to Urochloa. Brachiaria deflexa is usually easily distinguishable from other Brachiaria species by its panicle-like inflorescence, which resembles that of Panicum spp. It intergrades with Brachiaria ramosa (L.) Stapf and is sometimes included in the latter. Guinea millet is often confused with fonio (Digitaria exilis (Kippist) Stapf). Compared to fonio, it has larger grains and it grows faster, but it requires higher soil fertility and better drainage. The cultivated type sown in the Fouta Djallon Highlands (called var. sativa Portères) differs from the wild types harvested elsewhere particularly by being totally glabrous and by having a branched stem and much larger grains; furthermore, it is non-shattering.
Some Guinea millet types mature in as little as 70–75 days, but most types take 90–130 days to reach maturity. Guinea millet follows the C4-cycle photosynthetic pathway.
Guinea millet is found from sea-level up to 1500 m altitude in open woodland, forest margins and as a weed of cultivated land and disturbed soils, often preferring slightly shady locations. It is considered drought-resistant. Brachiaria deflexa needs fertile and well-drained soils for optimum growth.
Guinea millet is mostly collected from the wild, but farmers sometimes encourage its invasion into cereal fields and it is sown as a cereal in the Fouta Djallon Highlands. Farmers also sometimes sow fast-maturing Guinea millet types to fill in gaps in a field sown with fonio, sorghum, maize or other cereals.
Genetic resources and breeding
Guinea millet collections are held at CIAT (Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical, Cali, Colombia, 16 accessions) and in Kenya (National Genebank of Kenya, Crop Plant Genetic Resources Centre, Kikuyu, Muguga, 5 accessions). In view of its wide distribution, Guinea millet seems not threatened by genetic erosion. The Guinea millet cultivar sown in the Fouta Djallon Highlands may have potential for further selection.
Too little is known about Guinea millet to make an accurate assessment of its potential as a food plant. More information is needed on its nutritional properties, agronomy, ecological requirements and genetic diversity. The wild type will remain a valuable fodder plant for dry regions, due to its drought resistance and excellent fodder characteristics.
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Correct citation of this article:
Brink, M., 2006. Brachiaria deflexa (Schumach.) C.E.Hubb. ex Robyns In: Brink, M. & Belay, G. (Editors). PROTA 1: Cereals and pulses/Céréales et légumes secs. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.