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Finger millet (Eleusine coracana), grain


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Common names 

Finger millet, African finger millet, caracan millet, koracan [English]; ragi, mijo de dedo, mijo africano [Spanish]; éleusine, coracan, millet africain [French]; Fingerhirse [German]; Mwimbi, ulezi [Swahili]; 穇子 [Chinese]; નાગલી [Gujarati]; रागी [Hindi]; ರಾಗಿ [Kannada]; മുത്താറി [Malayalam]; कोदो [Nepali]; Дагусса, Элевсина коракан [Russian]; கேழ்வரகு [Tamil]; రాగులు [Telugu]; ข้าวฟ่างสามง่าม [Thai]


Cynosurus coracanus L., Eleusine africana Kenn.-O'Byrne, Eleusine indica subsp. africana (Kenn.-O'Byrne) S. M. Phillips, Eleusine tocussa Fresen.

Taxonomic information 

Finger millet has a cultivated form (Eleusine coracana subsp. coracana) and a wild form (Eleusine coracana subsp. africana) that is an aggressive colonizer (Dida et al., 2006).


Finger millet (Eleusine coracana (L.) Gaertn.) is a cereal grass grown mostly for its grain (for information concerning the forage uses of finger millet, see the Finger millet, forage datasheet). Finger millet is a robust, tufted, tillering annual grass, up to 170 cm high (FAO, 2012; de Wet, 2006; Quattrocchi, 2006). The inflorescence is a panicle with 4-19 finger-like spikes that resembles a fist when mature, hence the name finger millet (de Wet, 2006; Quattrocchi, 2006). The spikes bear up to 70 alternate spikelets, carrying 4 to 7 small seeds (Dida et al., 2006). The seed pericarp is independent from the kernel and can be easily removed from the seed coat (FAO, 2012).

Finger millet is a staple food in many African and South Asian countries. It is also considered a helpful famine crop as it is easily stored for lean years (FAO, 2012). The grain is readily digestible, highly nutritious and versatile, and can be cooked like rice, ground to make porridge or flour, or used to make cakes (de Wet, 2006). Sprouted grains are recommended for infants and elderly people. Finger millet is also used to make liquor ("arake" or "areki" in Ethiopia) and beer, which yields by-products used for livestock feeding (FAO, 2012).

Finger millet grain is not widely used for livestock: not only it is primarily a food grain, but it is of lesser quality for livestock than maize, sorghum and pearl millet. In India, it is sometimes used for feeding infant calves, growing animals, as well as sick and convalescing animals (Sampath, 1986).


Finger millet is thought to have been domesticated at the beginning of the Iron Age in Africa and was introduced into India 3000 years ago before spreading to South-East Asia. It is widespread in warm temperate regions from Africa to Japan and Australia, but can also grow in colder regions as far north as Northern Ireland, during summer.

Finger millet is a fast growing cereal crop that reaches maturity within 3 to 6 months and occasionally in only 45 days (Dida et al., 2006). It is generally found in disturbed areas, roadsides and banks (Quattrocchi, 2006). It is commonly found at altitudes between 1000 and 2000 in eastern and southern Africa, and up to 2500-3000 m in the Himalayas (FAO, 2012; Dida et al., 2006). It grows best at an average temperature of 23°C but can withstand cooler and hotter conditions (FAO, 2012). An annual rainfall ranging from 500 to 1000 mm is suitable, provided it is well distributed across the growing season (Dida et al., 2006). Finger millet will keep growing in drier conditions, but pearl millet and sorghum will be preferred below 750 mm (de Wet, 2006). Finger millet is intolerant of flooded conditions but withstands some waterlogging. It does not do well in areas of heavy rains, but prefers damp conditions (Baker, 2003). Finger millet is adapted to a wide range of soil conditions though it prefers fertile, well-drained sandy to sandy loam soils with a pH ranging from 5 to 7. However, it will grow in lateritic or black heavy vertisols and has some tolerance to alkaline and moderately saline soils (Dida et al., 2006).

Finger millet is the fourth millet in terms of worldwide production after sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) and foxtail millet (Setaria italica) (Upadhyaya et al., 2007). However, in Africa, finger millet is second and represents 19% of millet production, after pearl millet (76%) (Obilana, 2003). Finger millet is the main small millet species grown in South Asia (Seetharam, 1986). In 2006, finger millet grain production was about 4.5 million t: 2 million t were produced in Africa (mainly Eastern and Southern African) while the Asian continent (mainly India followed by Nepal) produced the remainder (Dida et al., 2006). However, Asian production keeps growing (by 50% in India during the last fifty years and by 8% per year in Nepal) while African production remains unchanged (Styslinger, 2011).


Finger millet grains are hard-hulled and should be ground finely before being fed to animals (Calder, 1960; Raju et al., 2003; Raju et al., 2004). A very fine screen should be used as some of the grains are extremely small and may escape grinding if a larger gauged sieve is used (Calder, 1960).

Environmental impact 

Soil erosion control

Finger millet tillers heavily and roots from the lower nodes, thus providing excellent protection against soil erosion (de Wet, 2006).


The wild form of finger millet is an aggressive colonizer that forms large continuous populations in disturbed habitats. It can invade fields of cultivated finger millet and occasionally crosses with the cereal crop, producing weedy hybrids (de Wet, 2006).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

Like other cereal grains, finger millet is an energy feed valuable for its high carbohydrate content. However, its protein content (7-10%) is often slightly lower than that of maize grain and its fibre content is higher (crude fibre 4-9% DM). It is also much less rich in protein than pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum), which is a common potential replacement for maize in areas where the three crops are available. Because of its lower nutritive value, finger millet is then mostly valuable when the prices of other cereals are high.

Potential constraints 


Finger millet grains contain tannins in variable amounts, depending on the variety. White-hulled varieties contain less tannin than brown-hulled ones. These tannins affect in vitro protein digestibility but it is unclear whether they are detrimental to animal nutrition (Ramachandra et al., 1977).


Dairy cows

In India, finger millet grain was used as a source of energy to supplement dairy cows during early to mid lactation, resulting in an increase in milk yield (average increase of 1.9 litre/cow/day), fat and solids-not-fat content of milk (average increase of 0.2-0.3%), but milk urea content was reduced. Using finger millet grain was found to be profitable economically (Gowda et al., 2009). Cows with high blood urea nitrogen (more than 19 mg%) and infertility showed improvement in their health and reproductive status after supplementation with 1-2 kg/d of finger millet grain for 2 to 3 months (Gupta et al., 2008).


In lambs, the replacement of maize grain with finger millet grain did not affect the DM intake of nutrients, but reduced their digestibility, possibly due to the fibre increase. It was suggested that finger millet grain could replace up to 50% of maize grain in diets for growing sheep (Santos et al., 2008).


Several Indian experiments have concluded that the complete substitution of maize grain by finger millet in the diets of growing pigs did not cause a drop in performance and was economically viable (Kiran Kumari et al., 2009; Hati et al., 2000a; Hati et al., 2000b).

A 1960 study in Zimbabwe compared finger millet and pearl millet (75:25 millet:maize in the grain part of diet). Finger millet resulted in slower growth and poorer economic results than pearl millet in growing pigs, though fat quality was similar. This detrimental effect on growth was less important for fattening pigs. It was concluded that finger millet should not constitute more than 50% of the grain content in any pig rations. It was still regarded as a valuable alternative to pearl millet for breeding animals, and a 50:50 mixture of pearl and finger millet was recommended for fattening pigs (Calder, 1960). A ration consisting of 40% maize, 40% pearl millet and 20% wheat pollards has been described as excellent for ad lib feeding of growing pigs (Göhl, 1982).


Finger millet is rarely used as a poultry feed (Esele, 1986). It is of lower quality for poultry than maize, sorghum and pearl millet, due to its lower protein and higher fibre contents (Rao et al., 2002; Elangovan et al., 2004). Another reason for the lower performance may be its tannin content, though this has not been recently demonstrated (Abate et al., 1984). Its metabolizable energy content has been reported lower than that of maize (Purushothaman et al., 1995; Reddy et al., 1995; Reddy et al., 1970; cited by Nageswara et al., 2003). However, in regions where it is available at a low cost, it can be an alternative to maize or to pearl millet.


Several trials found that finger millet could substitute safely up to 25% of maize grain (about 15% of the diet) without affecting weight gain, carcass yields and immunity in commercial broiler diets. Inclusion of finger millet also reduced the fat deposition in the thigh muscle, liver and abdominal area compared to maize (Rao et al., 2005). At higher substitution levels, it depressed growth in the starting phase though this effect was less noticeable during the finishing phase (Tyagi et al., 2004; Abate et al., 1984). Substitution with finger millet at 75 and 100% depressed feed efficiency at 21 and 42 days of age (Rao et al., 2005). However, another study found that a 75% substitution did not affect body weight gain, feed efficiency and feed consumption and that it was economically efficient (Jayanaik et al., 2008). Enzyme supplementation of finger millet-based diets improved feed intake, body weight gain and feed efficiency (Jayanaik et al., 2008; Elangovan et al., 2004).

It is important that the grain is fed ground: whole finger millet depressed body weight and feed efficiency, which improved in animals fed ground grains (Raju et al., 2003; Raju et al., 2004). Studies have reported an increase in gizzard, giblet and intestine weight or size due to the higher fibre content of finger millet (Rao et al., 2002; Raju et al., 2003; Raju et al., 2004).

Laying hens (breeders)

The complete replacement of maize by finger millet in the diet of broiler breeders was generally detrimental to performance (egg production, energy utilization efficiency and yolk colour index) but may be economically viable depending on the local prices for maize and millet (Rao et al., 2000).

Laying ducks

Total substitution of maize by unground finger millet (57% inclusion rate) in the diet of layer ducks did not affect performance (egg production, hatchability, livability and egg quality) though feed intake was higher. Using finger millet was found to be economically viable (Nageswara et al., 2003).

Nutritional tables
Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value 

Avg: average or predicted value; SD: standard deviation; Min: minimum value; Max: maximum value; Nb: number of values (samples) used

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Dry matter % as fed 89.0 2.0 86.5 92.1 5
Crude protein % DM 8.9 1.4 6.9 11.5 10
Crude fibre % DM 5.7 2.1 3.7 9.3 7
NDF % DM 23.8 23.6 24.1 2
ADF % DM 9.7 9.4 10.1 2
Ether extract % DM 1.5 0.4 1.2 2.4 6
Ash % DM 4.0 1.0 2.9 5.7 7
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 17.7 *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Calcium g/kg DM 4.9 1.2 3.6 6.1 5
Phosphorus g/kg DM 3.4 0.8 2.4 4.5 6
Potassium g/kg DM 5.3 3.7 6.8 2
Magnesium g/kg DM 1.8 0.1 1.7 1.8 3
Zinc mg/kg DM 31 1
Copper mg/kg DM 7 1
Iron mg/kg DM 1208 1
Amino acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Alanine % protein 6.1 1
Arginine % protein 6.4 4.6 8.2 2
Aspartic acid % protein 6.9 1
Cystine % protein 1.8 1.4 2.2 2
Glutamic acid % protein 18.4 1
Glycine % protein 4.9 4.1 5.8 2
Histidine % protein 2.5 2.4 2.6 2
Isoleucine % protein 4.2 3.9 4.5 2
Leucine % protein 9.2 9.1 9.2 2
Lysine % protein 3.0 3.0 3.0 2
Methionine % protein 2.3 1.3 3.3 2
Phenylalanine % protein 5.3 4.9 5.7 2
Proline % protein 6.0 1
Serine % protein 5.0 1
Threonine % protein 3.9 3.8 4.1 2
Tryptophan % protein 1.2 1
Tyrosine % protein 5.6 1
Valine % protein 5.8 5.8 5.8 2
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 82.4 *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 79.2 *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 14.0 *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 11.8 *
Pig nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Energy digestibility, growing pig % 81.2 *
DE growing pig MJ/kg DM 14.4 *

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Abate et al., 1984; Calder, 1960; CIRAD, 1991; Gowda et al., 2004; Krishnamoorthy et al., 1995; Nageswara et al., 2003; Patel, 1966; Rao et al., 2000; Rao et al., 2004; Ravindran et al., 1994; Swaminathan et al., 1970

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:44:11

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Crude protein % DM 7.1 1
Crude fibre % DM 20.8 1
Ether extract % DM 1.9 1
Ash % DM 17.6 1
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 15.7 *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Calcium g/kg DM 8.6 1
Phosphorus g/kg DM 4.6 1

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Patel, 1966

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:44:11

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Tran G., 2015. Finger millet (Eleusine coracana), grain. Feedipedia, a programme by INRA, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. http://www.feedipedia.org/node/721 Last updated on May 11, 2015, 14:34

English correction by Tim Smith (Animal Science consultant) and Hélène Thiollet (AFZ)
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