Small grains the answer
DICKSON Chirore has been producing small grains for the past four years and uses rapoko (finger millet) and oats in several ways.
“Small grains are used for brewing beer, making sadza and porridge,” he said.
Chirore sells rapoko and pearl millet for about $15 for a 20kg bucket at a market in Harare.
He started growing these grains in addition to maize because of the ever-changing climate. Chirore said he realised the grains would contribute to his family’s food and financial security.
Livelihoods in the country, according to World Food Programme, depend on rain-fed agricultural production, so unpredictable weather patterns can wreak havoc on crops like maize, which requires more water.
This is bad news for workers too, onethird of the formal labour force is supported by employment related to agriculture, according to Zimbabwe Statistics.
Growing small grains can be an adoptive strategy to climate change in many parts of the country.
Small grains are cereal crops such as millet, sorghum, oats and barley. They require relatively little rain, making them more drought resistant than conventional crops like maize.
The country’s staple crop, maize, is vulnerable to low rainfall, so agricultural experts, nutritionists, the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement and the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union are encouraging and training farmers to take up small grains farming as a solution to food insecurity in Zimbabwe amid indications that there will be normal to below average rainfall this season.
The Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe (ZCFU) has also trained farmers in drought-prone areas on how to grow small grains.
As a result, small grains production is increasing in the country. Department of Agricultural, Technical and Extension Services (Agritex) says there is an increase in small grains farming in the Matabeleland North province. According to a 2018 report by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, small grains production was up in Nkayi, a district in Matabeleland North, during the 2016-2017 cropping season.
Sorghum production was 166 percent above five-year averages, and pearl millet was 193 percent above five-year averages. Maize, however, was 77 percent of the fiveyear average.
“Maize grain supply by farmers and traders has decreased on most markets because of the poor and erratic seasonal rainfall,” according to the report.
And according to a 2017 report by the Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Division of Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement, sorghum production estimates from 2015/ 16 to 2016/ 17 rose by 401 percent.
Pearl millet production estimates increased by 267 percent, and finger millet rose by 37 percent.
Some types of small grains are particularly resilient. A grain called shirikure, a type of sorghum grown in Manicaland, is also drought resistant.
Alec Marisha an Agritex officer, says shirikure is abundant in the area as birds are repelled by the grain.
“Shirikure is one of the best performers in this area in terms of food security because of its advantage of not attracting birds, unlike other small grains,” Marisha said.
“In addition to the drought resistance, many people are now becoming conscious of their diets and now prefer small grain starches,” said a local farmer.
Andrew Bushwa, a dietician and nutritionist, said grains are associated with lowering the risk of chronic diseases.
However, Bushwa, who is also a parttime farmer, said most farmers are used to planting maize as it fetches a higher price.
“Education about the benefits of small grains farming must continue,” he said.
Small grains production can ensure food security in the country’s drought prone areas. This year, more than an estimated 1,1 million people are facing food insecurity, according to the World Food Programme.