4 September 2017

Zimbabwe: Communities Urged to Invest in Small Grains to Ensure Food Security

Marco Mare a plant breeder with the Crop Breeding Institute is convinced that policy makers have grossly neglected investment in small grains compared to maize, rice and wheat for example.

He says the situation is bad such that most farmers have chosen to shun small grains due to non-availability of seed in shops among many other reasons.

"It is worrying that policy makers are more comfortable associating their policy decisions with maize and other exotic crops than small grains.

"With maize, one can notice that there is equipment to grow, harvest and those for value addition but with small grains there is none; you find that most of the small grains farmers are still doing what is known as pondering, whereby they use sticks t harvest their crops.

Farmers inspect a sorghum field during a World Food Programme tour around the country.

"This discourages many farmers around the country to venture into small grains," said Mare.

Considering the effects of climate change, experts in the agriculture industry believe that small grains are the way to go in attaining food security in the country.

Apart from their nutritional value, small grains require little rainfall and adapt easily to dry conditions compared to maize and other crops the nation has been used to.

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

The government launched campaigns urging farmers to diversify or adopt small grains which can cope under dry weather conditions but sadly most farmers still plant maize which is not suitable to these conditions.

"Another problem is that, though some farmers now understand that small grains are the way to go and are harvesting big- they don't know what to do with their yields i.e. there is no value addition and utilization," added Marco mare.

But what should be done to make sure that the nation accepts and adopts our traditional crops- which experts believe will bring about food security in the country?

263Chat recently visited Mafeha Primary School in Bulilima for a Seed and Food Fair organized by Practical Action under its research project called Community Based Seed Conservation and Management of Plant Genetic Resources.

The fair brought together, small grains farmers, researchers, extension officers and district planners to enable them to share knowledge and ideas.

"This project is aimed at helping farmers access traditional seeds that are adapted to climate change particularly looking at their days to maturity, taste and other issues to do with utilization.

"In this project we have four mandate crops i.e. Sorghum, Pearl millet, ground nuts and Cow Peas and through this project we are encouraging farmers to grow those crops which are drought tolerant.

"This project is operating in Bulilima, Gwanda, Matopo and Mangwe because it is a province which is marginalized where the average rainfall received is low and in the recent seasons they have been worst hit by the continuous droughts affecting the country resulting to no yields at all," said Practical Action projects manager for Matebeleland South Melody Makumbe.

Jester Ndebele (45) a small holder farmer from Khami village, ward 22 who specializes in crops such as pearl millet, sorghum and cow peas who was also present at the fair said there is need for the government and other stake holders to put more resources to the research and improvement of small grains.

"It is not easy to be a small grains farmer considering the labor intensiveness of the crops; stakeholders like the department of mechanization should help in encouraging and availing equipment for processing small grains; I'm sure this will encourage more farmers to grow small grains.

"I also want to thank Practical Action and the Crop Breeding Institute for the work they are doing in our area

"Another production constraint which we were crying over is the issue of bird damage but they (Crop Breeding Institute) have developed a pearl millet variable which has got bristles which prevents the birds from eating the crops," she said

Echoing the same sentiments, Njabulo Hanyani, an agricultural extension supervisor covering 11 wards working for the Department of Agritex in Bulilima district said more small grains equipment should be availed to encourage more farmers.

"Most farmers were losing the seeds they used to grow long back and this project by Practical Action is bringing seeds to the farmers.

"Since the inception of this project the small grains hectarage in our district is increasing especially sorghum and millet because farmers have come to terms with the fact that climate change is a reality

"However, there is still concentration on maize because small grains are labor intensive compared to maize. At least if we have equipment to process small grains it will be a step further," said Njabulo.

Speaking on what needs to be done to bring about food security in the country looking at small grains, Melody Makumbe said the nation desperately needs a small grains policy.

"With this changing climate, maize has always failed the farmers and they are beginning to go back to small grains and other traditional crops.

"These are the crops that our ancestors used to grow but farmers where turning away from them because of issues around labor and also palatability but now they have realized that it's about food security and less about the other issues. Now they are going back to those crops and we have seen quit a good response from the farmers since the inception of our research project two years ago.

"Last season we had a cowpea variety that outperformed the poor season that we had in the 2015-2016 farming season and it yielded where the other crops failed. It has since passed the variety release committee and has been released as CBC4.

"I think to enhance small gains production, the country urgently needs a small grains policy as you know maize is not originally from Zimbabwe but because of policy the crop is where it is now. So the government needs to do to our traditional crops exactly what it did with maize," said Makumbe.

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