Pro­mote small grain seed pro­duc­tion

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Opinion - Sife­lani Tsiko

ZIM­BABWE needs to scale up ef­forts to strengthen its small grain seed pro­duc­tion for im­proved food se­cu­rity and poverty alle­vi­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to a new study. The new study en­ti­tled, “Ev­i­dence-Based Small Grains Value Chain De­vel­op­ment In Zim­babwe,” by two lo­cal think tanks — Zim­babwe Eco­nomic Pol­icy Anal­y­sis and Re­search Unit (ZEPARU) and Knowl­edge Trans­fer Africa (KTA) says there is a need to en­sure that cer­ti­fied seeds for small grains are avail­able from seed houses as is cur­rently the case with maize.

“The use of re­cy­cled seed can ex­plain the con­tin­u­ous fall in yields for small grains. Cer­ti­fied seeds can be­come avail­able at a large scale only if the de­mand for such seeds is placed on the seed houses, point­ing at the need to sub­sidise small grains seed avail­abil­ity,” the study says.

“Re­search should be done to en­sure that early ma­tur­ing and hy­brid seed va­ri­eties for small grains are also found in the lo­cal mar­ket.

“Seed houses can in­vest in such re­search if they are as­sured of the mar­ket. As a pol­icy, all Govern­ment ini­ti­ated farmer in­put sup­port pro­grammes, in­clud­ing the com­mand agri­cul­ture ini­tia­tive, should en­sure that small grain seeds are also in­cluded, which goes a long way in in­creas­ing de­mand for cer­ti­fied seeds.”

In Zim­babwe and most other African coun­tries, agri­cul­tural ex­perts say the sup­ply of small grain seed is even more limited or com­pletely ab­sent when it comes to in­dige­nous or lo­cal crops such as sorghum, rapoko, pearl and fin­ger mil­let.

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.

Ex­perts also say cur­rent na­tional seed pro­duc­tion and dis­sem­i­na­tion sys­tems are also un­able to pro­duce suf­fi­cient small grain seed to meet seed de­mand by small­holder farm­ers.

Farm­ers largely rely on their own saved seeds and seed houses say this makes small grain pro­duc­tion largely un­vi­able.

At present, lo­cal seed en­ter­prises are pro­duc­ing limited quan­ti­ties of small grain seed, tar­get­ing con­tract farm­ers grow­ing sorghum for a large brewer.

For small seed en­ter­prises, seed con­trol and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process is costly and not al­ways con­ducted in a timely man­ner.

This, ex­perts say, fur­ther shrinks small grain seed pro­duc­tion.

“In Zim­babwe and other African coun­tries, gov­ern­ments have dis­en­gaged them­selves from seed pro­duc­tion. This left the big pri­vate seed com­pa­nies to be the sole sources of com­mer­cial seeds, which are of­ten ex­pen­sive and con­se­quently in­ac­ces­si­ble to limited re­source farm­ers,” says vet­eran agron­o­mist and Com­mu­nity Tech­nol­ogy De­vel­op­ment Trust (CTDT) di­rec­tor, Mr An­drew Mushita.

“Apart from push­ing seed com­pa­nies to pro­duce small grains, our thrust should also be aimed at pro­mot­ing small­holder sus­tain­able qual­ity seed pro­duc­tion and sup­ply en­ter­prises in our lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.”

Zeparu and KTA re­searchers say although small grains are an in­te­gral part of food and nutri­tion se­cu­rity for many house­holds in Zim­babwe, they are still con­sid­ered or­phan crops.

“Pol­icy sup­port and me­dia at­ten­tion is show­ered on maize, wheat and other crops that are not in­dige­nous to Zim­babwe,” the study says.

“While the Govern­ment and de­vel­op­ment part­ners are re­al­is­ing the im­por­tance of small grains pro­duc­tion from a cli­mate adap­ta­tion point of view, re­source al­lo­ca­tion for pro­mo­tion of value ad­di­tion re­mains a chal­lenge.

“Where pro­cess­ing ac­tiv­i­ties have hap­pened, they have re­mained scat­tered mainly on pi­lot ba­sis to em­power com­mu­ni­ties to pro­duce their own small grains mealie-meal. Un­for­tu­nately, due to in­ad­e­quate ev­i­dence on dif­fer­ent con­tex­tual fac­tors, pi­lots have re­mained dif­fi­cult to scale up across the coun­try.”

The two pol­icy think tanks say it is wor­ry­ing that pol­icy mak­ers are more com­fort­able as­so­ci­at­ing their pol­icy de­ci­sions with maize and other ex­otic crops than with small grains.

“Most drought-tol­er­ant maize va­ri­eties be­ing pro­moted by seed com­pa­nies are quickly los­ing their ca­pac­ity to deal with cli­mate vari­abil­ity.

“While small grains are prov­ing more adapt­able than maize, there is not much de­vel­op­ment of their value chains from pro­duc­tion all the way to pro­cess­ing and value ad­di­tion.

“This tends to limit the vol­ume of pro­cessed prod­ucts, re­sult­ing in the mar­ket re­main­ing very small,” the new study ob­serves.

Re­searchers also ex­pressed con­cern over the fail­ure by the Govern­ment to de­velop a com­pre­hen­sive small grains pol­icy frame­work.

“Cur­rent Govern­ment ef­forts to pro­mote small grains have been made with­out a com­pre­hen­sive pol­icy. A well-crafted pol­icy frame­work for small grains should be de­vel­oped which ad­dress value chain link­ages, pro­vide for in­ter­ven­tions and pro­vide for reg­u­la­tions.

“The small grains pol­icy would also be struc­tured as a re­sponse to cli­mate change and the need for food se­cu­rity in the coun­try,” ac­cord­ing to the study.

The re­searchers also say there is need to pro­mote in­ter­est in small grains pro­duc­tion.

“Cur­rently, farm­ers are los­ing in­ter­est in small grains. Aware­ness cam­paigns are needed for farm­ers to ap­pre­ci­ate small grains as an al­ter­na­tive source of food and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment,” the re­searchers rec­om­mends. In ad­di­tion to nu­tri­tional value, farm­ers need more aware­ness on cli­mate change and how small grains can be adopted as a so­lu­tion. Mes­sag­ing should also in­clude good agri­cul­tural prac­tices on how to grow and in­crease yields. Knowl­edge on is­sues like use of her­bi­cides and pes­ti­cides as well as the re­quired plant pop­u­la­tions is still miss­ing among farm­ers.”

De­spite the con­certed push for small grains, neg­a­tive at­ti­tude still re­mains one of the big­gest bar­ri­ers to the adop­tion of small grains in drought-prone parts of the coun­try, agri­cul­tural ex­perts say.

They 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.

Most ru­ral farm­ers have not heeded calls to opt small grains which are re­sis­tant to dry weather con­di­tions.

Some farm­ers say they want small grains which can sur­vive un­der harsh con­di­tions but com­plain that they can­not 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 Zaire (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.”

Says vet­eran agron­o­mist and CTDT di­rec­tor, Mr Mushita: “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.”

Other agri­cul­tural ex­perts say there is 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 small grain. Ex­perts also say the lack of in­cen­tives, sub­si­dies, stor­age fa­cil­i­ties and ef­fec­tive trans­port ar­range­ments also dis­cour­aged farm­ers from adopt­ing these droughtre­sis­tant ce­real va­ri­eties. Some say pri­vate sec­tor sup­port through con­tract farm­ing ini­tia­tives can also mo­ti­vate them to grow more small grain crops. Rec­om­men­da­tions to strengthen the small grain value chain Key mes­sages on small grains must high­light drought tol­er­ance Pro­mote avail­abil­ity of small grain seed in ma­jor seed houses Pro­mote farmer tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise on small grains through agric ex­ten­sion ser­vices Har­vest­ing and pro­cess­ing of small grains should be tech­nol­ogy driven Build closer re­la­tion­ship be­tween small grains farm­ers and agro-pro­ces­sors Pro­mote small grains mar­ket­ing — Zim­pa­pers Syn­di­ca­tion.

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