What we know as nachini, or nashnne, in Goa is the Finger Millet from Africa that is used as a staple food in the old Mysore (now Mysuru) region of Karnataka, where it is known as ragi. Balls made of wet finger millet flour are steamed like Goan sanna in an idli cooker. Locally known in the region as ragi muddhe, they look like brown snowballs, and are their staple food.
For the caffeine-conscious, ragi malt is a popular beverage. It looks and tastes like almond milk with a dash of kesar, or saffron, tint and is popularly known as Badami halu (halu means milk) though it has no almonds in it.
LOCAL MILLET SCENE
Finger millet or nachini is a familiar millet in Goa. This millet was common in Goan food culture as bhakri, or flat bread, and ambil, a fermented beverage or porridge, for breakfast. The tribal Kunnbi and Gavddi communities and farmers across religions and castes drank ambil and sang its praises as a ‘giver of strength’: ‘Ambil ghattaiek ani vogdak thembo’, the thembo being a good shot of feni, downed in a single gulp long before tequila came to town.
When wheat was introduced in the local diet, nachini still found its way in the multi-grain atta for bhakri and chappati as it now does in potato chips.
For those with a sweet tooth like me, tizan, both in slurry form or gelatinized, is the favoured millet-based food. Curiously, the slurry version of tizan is known as sweet ambil in Telangana, where I have been when it was still a part of an undivided Andhra Pradesh.
Finger millet has the ability to withstand cultivation from sea level to altitudes over 2,000 metres above MSL. It has a high drought tolerance and its grains have long storage life. An attempt has been made to increase the area under nachini cultivation in Goa by making seeds available to farmers. This effort needs to be sustained.
The other popular millets are Sorghum or Jowar and Pearl millet or Bajra, known as Sajje in Kannada and Kambu in Tamil and is commonly used to make bhakri. The bajre ki khatti rabdi is a traditional dish made with bajra flour and curd in Rajasthan.
In Goa, we used jowar grain for mushroom spawn production in the 1990s. Its grain can be popped like popcorn and its stem provides fodder for cattle.
Millets are small-seeded grasses belonging to Paniceae or Poaceae. They are important crops in Asia and Africa and account for 97% of millet production. However, 17 of the 25 species of sorghum or jowar are native to Australia, once a part of Gondwanaland.
They have a short growing season under the dry, high-temperature conditions of the semi-arid tropics. They have been human food for about seven thousand years (from 5000 BC) and are central to permanent human settlements through agriculture.
Till the Bakra-Nangal and other dams were constructed, millets were the main crops of the Indo-Gangetic plains, including Punjab and Haryana, along the tropic of cancer. Millets are essential for climate resilient agriculture. Let us celebrate them in the FAO-UN International Year of Millets 2023.
The author is the former Chairman of the GCCI Agriculture Committee, CEO of Planter's Choice Pvt Ltd, Additional Director of OFAI and Garden Superintendent of Goa University, and has edited 18 books for Goa & Konkan