Small grains the an­swer

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - FEATURE - Em­manuel Kafe

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.

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