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Zimbabwe: Sorghum and millet as a solution to food insecurity during crises (IPS)

For Sinikiwe Sibanda, planting more sorghum and millet than maize has paid off. With the coronavirus pandemic resulting in decreased incomes and increased food prices across Zimbabwe, Mrs. Sibanda’s reliance on traditional and indigenous food resources could keep her household food secure.

Mrs. Sibanda farms in Nyamandlovu, 42 km northwest of Bulawayo, the second-largest city in Zimbabwe. She harvested two tonnes of millet this year, compared to less than 700 kg of maize. While some farmers did not harvest maize at all, those who planted sorghum and millet have enough food to last until the next harvest season. After she experienced poor rainfall in the 2018-19 farming season, Mrs. Sibanda is pleased.

Mrs. SIbanda is one of an increasing number of farmers in semi-arid areas that receive little rain who are shifting from growing white maize to hardy, traditional sorghum and millet for food and nutrition security.

Food security is a big concern in Zimbabwe. It is estimated that more than eight million Zimbabweans will need food aid by the next harvest season in March.

But switching to sorghum and millet was not easy. Mrs. Sibanda says, “I love maize, but the frequent drought is making it difficult to grow it regularly.”

She is also planting less land. She now seeds just five hectares of her farm, compared to 10 in the past. The high costs of seed and labour and the uncertain rainfall each year has forced her to scale down.

Mrs. Sibanda explains, “I learnt my lesson last season and planted one hectare under pearl millet, another under sorghum, and a bigger portion under maize, but millet produced the best yield.”

She says her maize harvest has been poor in recent years. She explains: “Drought every year has reduced maize yields and many times I harvest nothing if I do not replant mid-way through the season. … Maize needs more rain and easily wilts when we have poor rains as we did this year, but I am able to harvest something with small grains.”

Even livestock farmers are turning to sorghum. Livestock breeder Obert Chinhamo is intercropping sorghum and maize under rainfed production at Biano Farm, 30 km south of Bulawayo. He processes the sorghum and maize into silage to feed his 300 pedigree Simmental cattle during the dry season when pastures become scarce and poor in nutrients. Mr. Chinhamo is also teaching farmers to make their own feed using rainfed sorghum.

The shift to eating millet-based foods has not been easy for Mrs. Sibanda’s family. Zimbabwe is a maize-loving nation where maize flour is eaten at least three days a day when it is available.

Mrs. Sibanda said she enjoys millet flour, which she uses to make a tasty porridge and isitshwala (a carbohydrate-rich staple food made from millet meal). But her urbanized children do not enjoy it.

Drought and the COVID-19 pandemic are contributing to food insecurity in Zimbabwe. According to the United Nations Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Zimbabwe, food-insecure households will require assistance to consume enough calories and prevent deterioration of children’s nutritional status, as well as the nutritional status of women and vulnerable groups like the disabled.

Increased production of sorghum and millet could aid food security and nutrition. Hapson Mushoriwa is the lead breeder for Eastern and Southern Africa at the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics, or ICRISAT. He says small grains are the food of the future.

They are sustainable, nutritious, and have a low carbon footprint relative to maize because of lower levels of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide emissions to the atmosphere during production, according to Mr. Mushoriwa.

ICRISAT is developing adapted varieties of six key cereals and legumes, including sorghum, pearl millet, groundnuts, and pigeon pea. Mr. Mushoriwa said these crops are bred to combine high productivity, resilience, acceptable quality, and market preferences.

Mr. Mushoriwa says: “When you look at these six mandate crops, we label them as ‘Smart Food’ because they are good for you and highly nutritious, good for the planet (they have a low water footprint and lower the carbon footprint), good for the soils, and use few chemicals.”

He adds, “These crops are good for the smallholder farmer because they survive in the hardest climates, have multiple uses, potential to significantly increase yield, and untapped demand.”

Photo credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

This story was adapted from an article written by Busani Bafana for Interpress News Service, titled, “Using Traditional and Indigenous Food Resources to Combat Years of Successive Drought.” To read the full story, go to: http://www.ipsnews.net/2020/10/using-traditional-and-indigenous-food-resources-to-combat-years-of-successive-drought/ [1]