Attitudes hamper uptake of small grains – experts
Nsay. egative attitudes still remain one of the biggest barrier to the adoption of small grains in drought-prone parts of the country, agricultural experts
ey say despite an aggressive campaign by the Government encouraging smallholder farmers to diversify or completely adopt small grains which can cope under dry weather conditions, farmers still plant maize which is not suitable to these conditions.
“It’s in the mindset and our behaviour,” says Mr Eddie Rowe, country director of the World Food Programme in Zimbabwe.
“It all lies in the mindset. For many of our people, if you have not eaten sadza, you have not eaten anything.”
Mr Rowe and other agricultural experts say farmers’ attitude towards small grain crops such as finger millet, sorghum, rapoko, cowpeas and a whole range of indigenous legumes and vegetables must be reversed.
“Climate related disasters are driving food insecurity in the drought-prone areas of the country and farmers need to change their attitudes towards small grains to enhance their coping mechanisms,” he says.
“Food diversity is critical for food security. We need to diversify our food sources and stop relying heavily on maize which has proven not to be conducive especially in areas with low rainfall.”
“The issue here is more about attitude,” says Prof Emmanuel Mashonjowa, a University of Zimbabwe agricultural meteorologist.
“In Chiredzi, most farmers still grow maize despite getting no harvest at all, year in, year out. In this part of the country, you get a better maize harvest once every five years according to studies which we have done.
“Farmers have been advised to grow small grain crops, but they still don’t want this. It’s a question of attitude.”
Over the years, there have been repeated calls from Government for farmers in dry areas to plant small grains, but many for various reasons have chosen to cultivate mainly maize, even though the crop generally fails because of poor rains.
Mr David Phiri, regional director, UN Food and Agriculture Organisation for southern Africa, blames the poor adoption of small grains by farmers on the lack of an agricultural policy.
“Zimbabwe has no agricultural policy to drive this vision,” he says. “We assisted the Government on this, but this has not taken off. We are keen that Zimbabwe should have a vision for its agriculture.”
He says poor planning, the absence of clear small grains policy and negative attitudes compounded the problem.
“Most of farmers still grow maize despite being encouraged to grow small grains because of attitudes,” Mr Phiri says.
“The absence of a policy has made the situation worse.”
Most rural farmers have not heeded calls to opt small grains which are tolerant to dry weather conditions.
Some farmers say they want small grains which can survive under harsh conditions but complain that they can’t get small grain seeds in shops around the country.
“I want to grow millet, sorghum and rapoko but getting the seed is a problem,” says a farmer from the drought-prone Pfungwe district in the eastern part of the country.
“It’s easy for me to get maize seed from any shop here in our district but for small grains you have to get from other farmers.”
Despite their importance to food and nutrition security, small grains have grossly been neglected both scientifically and internationally, some experts say.
Compared to the research lavished on wheat, rice, and maize, for instance, they say small grains receive almost none in terms of research, extension service and seed availability.
They bemoan that small grains have been left to languish in the limbo of a “poor person’s crop,” a “famine food,” or, even worse, a “birdseed.”
They are concerned that with further neglect, neglected small grain crops will start an ominous slide that could propel it to oblivion in the near future.
“It has declined so rapidly in southern Africa, Burundi, Rwanda, and DRC, for instance, that some people predict that in a few years it will be hard to find — even where until recently it was the predominant cereal,” says one agricultural expert in an article published online.
“In those areas it clings to existence only in plots that are grown for use on feast days and other occasions demanding prestige fare.”
Veteran agronomist Mr Andrew Mushita says: “Most of our agricultural extension workers never got training on small grains. They don’t have much knowledge about small grains and they are only able to tell farmers to plant it without the necessary information about the crops.
“We need to review our curriculum at our agricultural institutions to include legumes and pulses. We need to build their capacity on these under-utilised crops or neglected crops.”
In addition to this, he says small grains are being promoted as a crop better equipped to thrive under adverse weather conditions and more suitable for long-term storage.
Erratic weather patterns in recent years have led to a growing push to promote small grains which can adapt to arid conditions.
“We need a comprehensive national policy regarding small grains,” says Mr Mushita. “Once we have this policy and all the necessary support be it financial, technical expertise, production and marketing, it’s easy to get the buy-in from farmers.”
‘’Once there is a ready market for their small grains, farmers can be motivated to grow them. We can easily convince them to shift to small grains.”
Mr Joseph Mushonga, a plant breeder, says changing lifestyles, tastes and traditions, among other reasons, have made farmers to be reluctant to adopt small grains.
“We need to change our eating habits,” he says. “We have been spoiled by the introduction of maize. Our habits have shaped our choice of maize and we need to change this.”
He concurs with Mr Mushita over the need to develop clearly defined policies and strategies to market small grains to growers or consumers.
“Without strategies, we will not go anywhere,” the plant breeder notes.
Other agricultural experts say there is a need to set up infrastructure to market the buying and processing of small grains, especially in drought prone districts.
Farmers say harvesting of small grains is cumbersome and labour intensive. They say they need specialised farm machinery for processing the harvest to help increase the uptake of small grains.
Experts also say the lack of incentives, subsidies, storage facilities and effective transport arrangements also discouraged farmers from adopting these drought-resistant cereal varieties.
Some say private sector support through contract farming initiatives can also motivate them to grow more small grain crops.
A large brewing firm has contracted commercial farmers to grow sorghum. This has motivated them to grow sorghum and in a similar way experts believe this could be one route to support smallholder farmers interested in growing the crop.
With better prices, farm equipment, improved handling of harvest and part in processing and marketing the grain, experts say it’s possible to motivate many to take up small grains.
Most traditional varieties and other wild species are being lost through genetic erosion, as farmers adopt new varieties and cease growing the varieties that they have nurtured for generations.
Eventually, they lose these varieties leaving most crop and wild species threatened with extinction, as their habitats are destroyed by human disturbance.
Agricultural experts say the world’s agrobiodiversity is disappearing at an alarming rate and for several major crops, between 80 and 90 percent losses in variety over the past century have been reported. — Zimpapers Syndication. A 37-YEAR-OLD Gokwe man has been sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for raping his wife’s 15 year old younger sister.
The man resides in Majute Village under Chief Sahi, Gokwe South and cannot be named to protect the identity of the victim.
He appeared before Regional Magistrate, Mr Solomon Jenya facing one count of rape.
The magistrate convicted him despite his plea of not guilty.
Mr Jenya sentenced the man to 15 years imprisonment and suspended two years on condition of good behaviour.
Prosecuting, Mr Mike Mhene told the court the accused person and the complainant are related.
“On July 7 last year the complainant’s sister went to take a bath and left her husband sitting with the complainant outside his bedroom hut. The accused person lured the complainant to his bedroom hut and started fondling her breasts,” said Mr Mhene.
The court heard that the complainant resisted his moves.
“The accused pushed the complainant on the bed and forcibly removed her clothes before raping her once,” said Mr Mhene.— @wynnezane.
A farmer inspects a sorghum crop