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Millets may help ensure food security in Africa

By EDITH MUTETHYA in Nairobi, Kenya | China Daily | Updated: 2023-03-24 11:13

African countries have been encouraged to increase millets production due to their potential in addressing climate change, boosting nutrition and increasing farmers' incomes.

At the UN Food and Agriculture Organization event held in Ghana's capital Accra on Friday, government officials and experts said millets could help Africa in its quest for food security because they are easy to plant, can withstand adverse climatic conditions, and can grow in degraded lands.

They said millets, which include sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet, amaranth, fonio and teff, can grow on arid lands with minimal inputs and maintenance, are tolerant or resistant to diseases and pests, and are more resilient to climate shocks than other cereals.

Currently, 146 million people are facing a crisis or acute food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Climatic shocks

The situation is attributed to climatic shocks such as prolonged drought, conflict, recurrent flooding and economic downturns exacerbated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United Nations General Assembly declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets to promote it as an alternative crop and also address the serious issue of food security and environmental problems caused by the cultivation of traditional crops such as rice and wheat in many parts of the world.

Abebe Haile-Gabriel, FAO assistant director-general and regional representative for Africa, said millets have a lot of potential to transform the continent's agri-food system.

"Let's increase productivity, and add value through processing to benefit producers, especially women, as well as consumers," he said.

Haile-Gabriel urged governments and policymakers to prioritize the production and trade of millets, take legislative actions to promote their cultivation and innovative methods for harvest and post-harvest processes.

He said millets could also be put on the menu at public schools and hospitals, noting that the grains packed with minerals including iron, fiber, antioxidants and protein, have a low glycemic index and are gluten-free.

Fatmata Binta, an advocate for fonio and who is collaborating with the FAO throughout the International Year of Millets 2023, said fonio is easy to grow, doesn't require too much plowing of the land and can be harvested within 8 to 12 weeks.

"It has so many benefits, so it is something we need to add to our diet," she said. "We are talking a lot about sourcing locally, connecting with farmers, and I think it's important now to start using ingredients that are underutilized."

The FAO said greater consumption of millets could offer opportunities to smallholder farmers through sustainable increased production.

"By promoting millets and regaining market opportunities, additional sources of revenue can be created for smallholders," the UN agency said.

The FAO said the private sector could invest in the sustainable production of millets by facilitating access to credit or other financial support, millet-specific training, farming equipment and new technologies that improve the processing of millets.

The UN agency said, despite their history and nutritional value, millets account for less than 3 percent of the global grains trade.


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