Swap maize for mil­let? Zim­babwe farm­ers say no

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

BU­L­AWAYO, Zim­babwe:

In the bat­tle for food se­cu­rity, Fanuel Dube is re­sist­ing his govern­ment - and giv­ing in to his chil­dren. As Zim­babwe’s sow­ing sea­son nears, the small-scale farmer from Fi­l­abusi, a vil­lage about 100km (63 miles) south of Bu­l­awayo, in­tends to con­tinue plant­ing maize.

He has re­fused the en­treaties of govern­ment agri­cul­ture of­fi­cers to grow smaller, nat­u­rally drought-re­sis­tant grains such as sorghum and mil­let. The prob­lem, he says, is that “our chil­dren do not like it”. “We ate sorghum when we were younger our­selves, but we have been plant­ing maize for so long now it’s the only food our chil­dren know,” Dube ex­plained.

Dube is not the only farmer re­luc­tant to aban­don south­ern Africa’s sta­ple grain, even as har­vests of it plum­met. Maize pro­duc­tion dropped by 40 per­cent in Zim­babwe in 2015-16 due to poor rains, ac­cord­ing to the Com­mer­cial Farm­ers Union. The govern­ment has pushed farm­ers to be­gin grow­ing small grains as the fu­ture of the coun­try’s food se­cu­rity in a time of per­sis­tent drought. But small-scale farm­ers have been slow in mak­ing the change, and last year the agri­cul­ture min­istry re­ported a short­age of even the seeds to grow small grains, be­cause farm­ers are not plant­ing enough to gen­er­ate new stocks.

NO TASTE FOR CHANGE

Ac­cord­ing to re­search by Chipo Zishiri, a small-grains spe­cial­ist at the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, Mech­a­ni­sa­tion and Ir­ri­ga­tion De­vel­op­ment, Zim­babwe has wit­nessed a de­cline in the pro­duc­tion of small grains over the past 14 years be­cause farm­ers are un­will­ing to grow sorghum, mil­let and other va­ri­eties.

“Tastes and pref­er­ences are a con­trib­u­tory fac­tor that is de­rail­ing the pro­duc­tion of small grain,” said Zishiri. But in a time of cli­mate vari­abil­ity and in­creased fre­quency of drought, “im­prov­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity of small grains is the key to food and nutri­tion se­cu­rity,” she said.

Ta­puwa Gomo, a de­vel­op­ment ex­pert at the United Na­tions Of­fice for the Co­or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs, said the re­fusal by farm­ers to switch crops “demon­strates lack of re­search and com­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tion” by the govern­ment. Ac­cord­ing to the agri­cul­ture min­istry, up to 80 per­cent of the coun­try’s maize pro­duc­tion comes from small-scale farm­ers, and poor har­vests this year re­sulted in the coun­try hav­ing to im­port 700,000 tons of maize to avert hunger.

The coun­try’s pri­mary maize seed man­u­fac­turer, Seed Co, has in­vested in new drought-re­sis­tant va­ri­eties. But Stephen Chenge­tai, an agri­cul­ture ex­ten­sion of­fi­cer at the agri­cul­ture min­istry, told Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion that one prob­lem in see­ing them dis­trib­uted is that they often “are very ex­pen­sive”. “They are ex­pen­sive not just for farm­ers them­selves but more wor­ry­ingly for govern­ment which dis­trib­utes farming in­puts for free,” Chenge­tai said. A 25kg bag of more tra­di­tional maize seed that takes four months to ma­ture costs around $80 while a va­ri­ety that is ready for har­vest in two months costs $120 at re­tail out­lets. — Reuters

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