At­ti­tudes ham­per up­take of small grains – ex­perts

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Feature/national News - Sife­lani Tsiko

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

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