Basic Species Information
Brown top millet, which goes by the scientific name Brachiaria ramosa (L.) Stapf. or Urochloa ramosa (L.) R.D. Webster, is known locally as pedda-sama and korne, and has a limited cultivation largely confined to southern India. Domestic and wild/weedy forms of brown top millet are found in agricultural systems, often within the same field. It is used as both a human food crop and fodder. Outside of India, it is grown in some parts of the USA as a fodder crop, largely to provide food for game birds, and was introduced from India around 1915. Although its distribution is highly relict today, restricted to parts remote parts of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu states in southern India (Kimata et al. 2000), it appears to have been a major staple crop in the late prehistory of the wider region of the Deccan (Fuller et al. 2004).
In several parts of India, brown top millet is known by local names which translate to “illegal wife of little millet [Panicum sumatrense],” reflecting its tendency to grow within fields of little millet as a mimic weed (Sakamoto 1987). Brown top millet can grow with either a compact or open panicle and can have either shattering or indehiscent spikelets. The domestic form, however, tends to act like other domestic cereals and is both compact and partially indehiscent (Kimata et al. 2000). Where brown top millet occurs as a weed of other millet fields, it is usually treated as an insurance crop.
Major Domestication Traits
Brown top millet is particularly tolerant of drought and is well adapted to semiarid areas. It grows well at altitudes of 2,000–2,500 m, with 75–150 cm annual rainfall (Roecklein & Leung 1987). Cultivation is more common in the dry areas of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh at lower elevations, South India, than in other parts of the world. Brown top millet grows and matures over around 90 days, a shorter time than several other millets including pearl millet (Pannisetum glaucum). It is usually grown as a single crop and not incorporated into mixed field systems. Harvesting in the early morning while the dew is still on the crop reduces the amount of grain lost through panicle shattering. Shattering (dehiscence) is reduced compared to the wild forms, but it is still partially shattering. The crop tends to be cut at the base, then winnowed, dehusked, and polished. Because it is semi-shattering, its grains can become dislodged just by being dried which reduces the need to thresh, although it requires dehusking like most other millets. Straw and chaff is often used as animal fodder; however, the grain is reserved for human consumption and is said to be tastier than rice. Brown top millet tends to be ground into flour and used to make flat breads (roti, dosa) or polished and boiled to make gruel (anna, kheer). Some of these foods are used in religious rituals, which may partly account for its persistence in cultivation (Kimata et al. 2000).