Millet grains have been discovered in pots used for storing grains and seeds at archaeological sites in present day China, India, Europe and different parts of Africa. Millets have been a good part of the staple diet among many communities across the world. We find them in literature, sculptures, paintings, folk songs and religious compositions of various cultures. One finds many millet preparations in traditional cuisines to this day throughout India, China, Japan, Korea, Russia, Turkey, Russia, Ethiopia, etc.
Millets are extremely hardy crops with short cultivation times. For example, Proso millet requires just 70 days to be ready for harvest. This is probably what made it the staple grain of nomadic communities across Central Asia. Proso millet travelled with these tribes and many varieties are found across the steppes (grasslands) of the continent.
When compared to other cereals, millets do not demand much from the soil, are rain fed and are less susceptible to pests either in the field or during storage. Considering the probability of early humans being able to access dry, rain fed lands rather than wetlands, it becomes apparent that millets would be the commonly available grains to meet dietary needs. In fact, we see that as agricultural communities began to avail of irrigation, they gradually began to lose their millet heritage.
Some millet or the other continues to be a significant (but fast eroding) part of adivasi / tribal communities’ diets in different parts of India. Until the large scale promotion of paddy and wheat through the green revolution (and the supporting investments and infrastructure), millets were the staple grains of large sections of the population that did not have access to assured irrigation for their lands.
With growing health consciousness, environmental concerns, and the pressing need for updating our food systems to survive climate change, millets, probably the earliest of cereal grains that humans started domesticating, are making a comeback.