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Eleusine coracana (L.) Gaertn.

Ragi, Kurakkan, African millet, Finger millet

Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Description
  5. Germplasm
  6. Distribution
  7. Ecology
  8. Cultivation
  9. Harvesting
  10. Yields and Economics
  11. Energy
  12. Biotic Factors
  13. References


Ragi is the main food grain for many peoples, especially in dry areas of India and Sri Lanka. Grain is higher in protein, fat and minerals than rice, corn, or sorghum (Reed, 1976). It is usually converted into flour and made into cakes, Puddings, or porridge. When consumed as food it provides a sustaining diet, especially for people doing hard work. Straw makes valuable fodder for both working and milking animals. A fermented drink or beer is made from the grain. Grain may also be malted and a flour of the malted grain used as a nourishing food for infants and invalids. Ragi is considered an especially wholesome food for diabetics.

Folk Medicine

The leaf juice has been given to women in childbirth, and the plant is reported to be diaphoretic, diuretic, and vermifuge (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962). Ragi is a folk remedy for leprosy, liver disease (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962), measles, pleurisy, pneumonia, and small pox (Duke and Wain, 1981).


Per 100 g, the straw is reported to contain (ZMB): 3.7 g protein, 0.9 g fat, 87.3 g total carbohydrate, 35.9 g fiber, 8.1 g ash, 1110 mg Ca, 160 mg P, 260 mg Na, and 1500 mg K (C.S.I.R., 1948-1976). Per 100 g, the wet matter is reported to contain (ZMB): 7.6 g protein, 1.1 g fat, 76.2 g total carbohydrate, 33.6 g fiber, 15.1 g ash (Gohl, 1981). The plant yields hydrocyanic acid (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962).


Annual grass; culms erect, laterally flattened, 60-120 cm tall or long, profusely tillering, in addition to branches sent out at the rounded nodes in succession, plants often lodged or prostrate; root system fibrous and remarkably strong, permeating soil thoroughly, inflorescence a whorl of 2-8 (normally 4-6), digitate, straight, or slightly curved spikes 12.5-15 cm long, about 1.3 cm broad; spikelets about 70, arranged alternately on rachis, each containing 4-7 seeds, varying from 1-2 mm in diameter; caryopsis nearly globose to somewhat flattened, smooth or tugose, reddish-brown to nearly white or black.


Reported from the Hindustani and African Centers of Diversity, ragi or cvs thereof is reported to tolerate alkali, disease, drought, fungus, high pH, insects, laterite, low pH, mildew, salt, slope, and virus (Duke, 1978). Over 20 varieties of ragi are cultivated in India. The numerous races under cultivation are primarily divided into purple and green types; those with straight or open spikes, encurved or closed spikes, or branched spikes; length of earheads (5-10 cm long); color of seeds (deep brown to shade of orange-red to almost white or black); dwarf in habit (45 cm tall) to up to 1.3 m tall; poor tillering to profuse tillering; early or late maturing; suitable for growing under irrigation to growing in dry areas. Many named cultivars are involved in breeding trials in India. Most improvement is sought in increasing yields, resistance to lodging, even maturity and loose panicle. Strains of white ragi, 'EC 1540', gives superior nutritive value, up to 14% protein, compared to pigmented types, which range from 6-11%. 'Relluchodi' a hill type, is green throughout, with long open type panicle and maturing in 115-120 days. 'AKP-2', is green throughout, with incurved panicle, maturing in 85-90 days. E. coracana is mostly self-pollinated. (2n = 36)


Considered to be of Indian or African origin, perhaps a cultigen of the wild species Eleusine indica. Widely cultivated in tropical Asia and East Africa; cultivated on rainy slopes and upland areas of Himalayas up to 2,300 m elevation.


Ranging from Cool Temperate Moist to Wet through Tropical Very Dry to Wet Forest Life Zones, ragi is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of 2.9 to 42.9 dm (mean of 19 cases = 12.3) annual temperature of 11.1 to 27.4°C (mean of 19 cases = 20.8) and pH of 5.0 to 8.2 (mean of 17 cases = 6.4) (Duke, 1978, 1979). Typically a tropical crop, one of the best suited for dry farming, generally grown rainfed. Thrives under a medium rainfall, on porous soils that do not get waterlogged. With rainfall of 53-75 cm, it is cultivated rainfed; with less, it is irrigated. Ragi is very adaptable and thrives at higher elevations than most other tropical cereals. Cultivated on soils ranging from rich loams to poor shallow upland soils. In India, grown on black cotton soils, but thrives on red lateritic loams. Ragi stands salinity better than most cereals.


Ragi may be grown as a hot weather crop, from May to September, using long duration varieties and as a cold season crop, from November and December, using early types. Ragi seed are broadcast or drilled, in rows 7.5-30 cm apart. In some areas, furrows are opened 25-30 cm apart and seeds sown along with well-rotted manure. Seed rate varies from 21-38 kg/ha. Sometimes seed is sown in nurseries and seedlings outplanted when 3-4 weeks old. Eleven kg seed provides seedlings for a hectare. Transplanting is common where early rains are uncertain. In India, two crops are sown: the early crop is grown from May to August, and the main crop, from July to Novermber or early December. It is also grown year-round under irrigation wherever water is available. Ragi is monocropped in India under irrigation or transplantation. Rainfed it is mostly intercropped with cereals, castor bean, niger, groundnut, pulses and gingeli. The most common subsidiary crops grown with ragi are fieldbean (Lablab purpureus), pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan), cowpea (Vigna sinensis), and niger (Guizotia abysinnica). With groundnuts, ragi is the subsidiary crop. Liberal manure, mainly sheep and cattle, is applied. Green manures such as cowpeas, sunnhemp, artificial manures and oil cakes, have been used on both irrigated and unirrigated crops. Artificial fertilizers are usually applied near close of intercultural operations. Inorganic nitrogen depresses crop yields on poor land, but enhances yields on fertile land. Phosphate acts as a limiting factor controlling response to nitrogen. Minute amounts of zinc sulfate increase yields of both grain and straw. Seed inocculated with B. azotobacter increases yield. Ragi is chopped and weeded at intervals of 14 days or so. The number and frequency of irrigations varies with seasonal conditions. Ragi requires more water than jowar (Sorghum bicolor) (Reed, 1976). Cowsik and Jayachandra (1981) found that hardening ragi seeds with distilled water and phenolic acids (caffeic acid, ferulic acid, and vanillic acid) hastened germination and imparted resistance to the respective allelopathic agents; in addition, dry matter production was increased by 10-40%.


Ragi matures 3-5 months after sowing, depending on variety, season and soil properties. Rainfed crops are cut close to ground, stalks are allowed to wither for a day or two in field, and then bundled and stacked for about 2 months before threshing. To separate the grains, dried earheads are beaten with sticks, sheaves are trodden by bullocks or crushed by stone rollers. Separated grains are winnowed and cleaned. Under irrigated conditions, crop is harvested about 3.5 months after transplanting. Earheads are gathered when they ripen; three or four pickings are usually required to collect all earheads from a field. These are heaped up, and when dry, threshed. Straw from irrigated plants is coarse and thick and is rarely cut. It is grazed down or sometimes turned under as manure for next crop.

Yields and Economics

Seed yield is 5 MT/ha (Duke, 1978). Ragi grain possesses excellent storage properties and is said to improve in quality with storage. Seed can be stored without damage for as long as 50 years. They are highly valued as a reserve food in times of famine. Yield depends on variety and is directly related to duration, height and tillering capacity of type grown. Types with straight spikes give better yields than those with curved spikes. Ragi is the principal cereal crop for many peoples in India, Sri Lanka, and East Africa. In India over 2.5 million hectares are cultivated annually. Although it does not enter international markets, it is a very important cereal grain in areas of adaptation.


According to the phytomass files (Duke, 1981b), annual productivity ranges from 2 to 9 MT/ha. Yields under irrigated conditions are nearly double those on rainfed land. Yield of straw varies from 1.1-2.2 MT/ha from rainfed crops, and 4.4-8.8 MT/ha from irrigated crops. Grain yield is correlated with plant height, grain weight of main ear and days to 50% maturity. In Punjab, where ragi is grown mainly for fodder, yields of green fodder average 13.5 MT/ha in three cuttings (Reed, 1976). Bogdan (1977) reports 15 MT green fodder/ha in 3 cuts; and for straw, 1.12-2.24 MT/ha for dryland crops and up to 8.96 MT for irrigated crops.

Biotic Factors

Ragi is subject to relatively few serious diseases or pests. Fungi reported on ragi include: Cladosporium herbarum, Cercospora fusimaculans, Cochliobolus nodulosus, Curvularia lunata, Helminthosporium leucostylum, H. nodulosum (leafspot or blight), H. tetramera, Melanopsichum eleusinis (smut), Pellicularia rolfsii, Phyllachora eleusine, Piricularia eleusine, P. grisea, P. oryzae, P. setariae, Sclerospora macrospora, Sclerotium rolfsii. A strain of sugarcane mosaicz virus also attacks ragi. Ragi is parasitized by the following species of Striga: S. asiatica, S. densiflora, S. hermonthica, and S. lutea. Nematodes known to attack ragi include: Meloidogyne sp., and Scutellonema sp. Insect pests include: hairy caterpillar (Amsacta albistriga), Jola grasshopper (Colemania sphenarioides), ragi pink shoot-borer (Sesamia inferens), and ragi leaf-roller (Marasamia trapezalis). In storage, a beetle (Alphitobius sp.) may cause some damage.


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
last update July 10, 1996