Down but not out – fallen millet plants rise up to the sky
A few weeks ago, we visited some millet farmers in the Sitapur Dt. of Uttar Pradesh. We came across a barnyard millet (साँव़ा) field in Aanth (आँट) where the plants had fallen due to a combination of too much water and wind. Strong vegetative growth of these plants to more than 7′ had raised the family’s hopes of being able to get a bumper harvest. It was more than a week since the incident and they had resigned to their fate that the grains that were still in the filling stage would now rot.
Wheat is the main crop in this region. A fallen wheat plant leads to reduced harvest due to various reasons. Coming from this experience the fallen Barnyard crop was also interpreted as a slash on the quantity and quality of the harvest.
But as I suspected, what we saw in the field was a totally different story. There are two things that almost all millet plants do when they fall. One : they push in new roots from their nodes that are close to the ground. And two: they start growing their apex, and hence the panicle, back to a vertical position. These are two of the many amazing things that makes millets special. A weak stalk and insufficiently developed root system cannot fill the grains in the panicles. So an adverse condition (strong winds) leading to a compromised state (having fallen down) appears to be turned into an advantage by exploiting the proximity to the ground to push in new roots and revitalize the plant ! A self correcting system, eh? 🙂
In pursuit of food security and sovereignty, we traded such hardy crops for such sensitive and input / care intensity crops like wheat and paddy!