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Pearl millet [Pennisetum glaucum (L.) R. Br.] is the most widely grown drought tolerant warm season coarse grain cereal grown on 26 million ha in some of the harshest semi-arid tropical environments of south Asia and sub-Sahara Africa. It is also consumed as feed and fodder for livestock. It is the sixth most important cereal crop in the world next to maize, rice, wheat, barley and sorghum. In India, pearl millet is the fourth most widely cultivated food crop after rice, wheat and maize. It occupies an area of 6.93 million ha with an average production of 8.61 million tones and productivity of 1243 kg/ha during 2018-19 (Directorate of Millets Development, 2020; Project Coordinator Review, 2020). It excels all other cereals due to its unique features - C4 plant with high photosynthetic efficiency, high dry matter production capacity and is grown under the most adverse agro-climatic conditions where other crops like sorghum and maize fail to produce economic yields.

Pearl millet is critically important for food and nutritional security as it possess several advantages such as early maturing, drought tolerance, require minimal purchase of inputs and mostly free from biotic and abiotic stresses. Its grains have high protein content, balanced amino acid profile and high levels of iron, zinc and insoluble dietary fiber. It has special health benefiting properties for people suffering from life style diseases like diabetes, obesity etc. as it has high proportions of slowly digestible starch (SDS) and resistant starch (RS) that contribute to low glycemic index (GI). Pearl millet is gluten free and retains its alkaline properties even after being cooked which is ideal for people suffering from gluten allergy and acidity.

Pearl millet is cultivated in regions with characteristically low and erratic rainfall, high mean temperature, high potential evaporation and infertile, shallow soils with poor water holding capacity i.e. under the most adverse agro-climatic conditions where other major crops like maize and sorghum fail to produce economic yields. In spite of this, pearl millet has a remarkable ability to respond to favourable environments because of its short developmental stages and capacity for high growth rate, thus making it an excellent crop for short growing season and under improved crop management.

All India Coordinated Research Project on Pearl Millet

Research on Pearl millet improvement in India is carried through the All India Coordinated Research Project on Pearl Millet (AICRP-PM) which is a continuing central plan project established in 1965 by Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) under the name of All India Coordinated Millet Improvement Project (AICMIP) with its headquarters at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi. The headquarters of the project were shifted to Pune in 1977. Later on pearl millet was separated from the rest of the millet crops and the All India Coordinated Pearl Millet Improvement Project (AICPMIP) was established in 1985 with its headquarters at Pune as an independent coordinated project. The ICAR shifted, in July 1995, the headquarters of AICPMIP to Jodhpur in the state of Rajasthan, the state which occupies nearly half of pearl millet area of the country. The AICRP on Pearl millet headquarters is located at ARS, Mandor, Jodhpur which now comes under Agriculture University, Jodhpur. The AICRP on Pearl millet has a network of 13 AICRP centers in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Tamil Nadu. Of which 12 project centres are located at different State Agricultural Universities (SAUs) of the country and funded on 75% (Central Sector share) and 25% (State share). The AICRP-PM centers located in 12 State Agricultural Universities (SAU's) and University of Mysore pursue mandated activities and research on pearl millet in the area of germplasm utilization, improvement, production, protection and value addition.

Agro climatic zones of Pearl millet and AICRP Centres

Growing conditions for pearl millet vary from near-optimum with high external inputs to highly drought-prone environments. Prioritization of research in cognizance of production constraints and differential requirement of various crop growing regions led to formation of three zones viz., A11, A and B.

Zone A1 is comprised of parts of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana receiving less than 400 mm annual rainfall. Zone A is composed of the remaining parts of the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana and the entire pearlmillet growing areas of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Delhi. This zone has sandy loam soils and annual rainfall of greater than 400 mm. Zone B is comprised of the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh with rainfall greater than 600 mm, heavy soils and mild temperature conditions.

AICRP on Pearl millet has 30 cooperating/ voluntary centres across India which are actively involved in coordinated evaluation programme. AICRP on pearl millet through ICAR collaborates extensively with international and national organizations in development of improved breeding materials and in conducting strategic research on diversification of hybrid parental lines, trait based breeding, marker assisted selection and biofortification of pearl millet rich in iron and zinc.

Current status of Pearl millet improvement in India

Pearl millet occupies 6.93 million ha with an average production of 8.61 million tonnes and productivity of 1243 kg/ha during 2018-19 (Directorate of Millets Development, 2020; Project Coordinator Review, 2020). The major pearl millet growing states are Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana which account for more than 90% of pearl millet acreage in the country and commonly grown in rainy (kharif) season (June/July–September/October). It is also cultivated during summer season (February–May) in parts of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh; and during the post-rainy (rabi) season (November–February) at a small scale in Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Due to the excellent nutritional properties and resilience to climate change, pearl millet along with other millets is renamed as nutri-cereal (Gazette of India, No. 133 dated 13th April, 2018) for production, consumption and trade and included in Public distribution system. The MSP of pearl millet is increased to Rs. 2000 per quintal (raised by Rs. 50 which is 2.6 %) compared to the previous years MSP at Rs. 1950 resulting in highest returns when compared to all other crops. To bring millets into mainstream for exploiting the nutritional rich properties and promoting their cultivation, Govt. of India has declared Year 2018 as the “Year of Millets” and the Year 2021 was declared as “International Year of Millets” by FAO Committee on Agriculture (COAG) forum. Through ICAR- All India Coordinated Research Project on Pearl millet, a total of 175 hybrids (public 101 and private sectors 74) and 62 varieties were identified and released for cultivation in different agro ecological zones of the country. These hybrids are cultivated on 60% of the total pearl millet area, leading to increase in crop productivity from 305 Kg/ha during 1951-55 to 1243 Kg/ha during 2018-19.

Pearl millet is the first crop where MAS (marker aided selection) strategies and tools have been applied to develop "Improved HHB 67". Since its inception in 1974, the Coordinated Project has developed a number of production and protection technologies specific to different agro-ecological regions which proved useful in enhancing the productivity of improved cultivars to commercial farming scales and thus increased the profitability of pearl millet cultivation. With the release of new high yielding hybrids and varieties, production has enhanced through increased seed replacement rate and higher productivity.

Along with yield improvement, focus on the nutritional improvement was also taken care in Pearl millet. In order to develop biofortified varieties/hybrids with enhanced Iron and Zinc, a landmark decision was taken by the Pearl millet researchers to include Iron and Zinc concentrations as one of the promotion criteria for promoting entries in the coordinated trials during the 52nd Annual Group Meeting of ICAR- AICRP on Pearl millet at PAU, Ludhiana on 28th April, 2017.

ICAR-AICRP on Pearl Millet, Jodhpur - 342 304, Rajasthan, India | Phone : +91 291 2571408