THE development of research is critical in ensuring improved food security in the country, First Lady Auxilia Mnangagwa has said. Speaking after touring the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat) in Matobo yesterday, the First Lady said climate change was a reality and it was important for the country to improve food security through research development.
The First Lady visited the research centre to review the state of affairs within the small grains sector.
She was accompanied by Provincial Ministers for Matabeleland South and Bulawayo Cdes Abednico Ncube and Judith Ncube, respectively, as well as the Small Grains Producers Association (SGPA) president Mr Basil Nyabadza.
Icrisat and SGPA have partnered in revamping a market-led production leading to food security, nutrition and rural empowerment at village level.
Yesterday's event was held under the theme "Revamping small grains for food, nutrition and income security", and was also attended by service chiefs, Government officials, churches representatives, farmers, research partners, traditional leaders and officials from Icrisat, Distributed Power Africa DPA Cassava Smartech and Cold Storage Company (CSC).
The First Lady said if the country prioritises research, its roadmap for development will gather pace much quicker and bring lasting value to households.
"Climate change is a reality within our economy, especially agriculture. At least 70 percent of our farmers are either communal or small-scale and they're affected badly by climate change. Food security and nutrition are vital for development.
"Development is anchored on research, production, processing, marketing and consumption. To successfully bring value to the small grains sector, we have to start with research," said the First Lady.
She said her office was following up on the roadmap to successfully implement a positive outcome in producing a number of small grains, which will empower small-scale farmers and increase nutrition levels within villages.
The small grains targeted include sorghum, millet, rapoko, groundnuts, sunflower, sugar beans, garlic, ginger and pepper while under livestock the programme targets goats, sheep and cattle.
The First Lady added that the seed bank for small grains was virtually empty and said multiple programmes have been structured to expand both research and production of seed.
"Rural women farmers have been planting recycled seed resulting in poor yields. This means that our task is huge. Starting this season, 2019/20, we have to see that rural women farmers access quality seed to improve both value retention and nutrition at household level.
"A healthy village is good for development. Food security and nutrition among communities enhances dignity and self-sustenance. We need to identify partners who will bring value in enhancing revenue to respective production centres anchored within our districts," said the First Lady.
She said in addition to the production of small grains, the production of garlic, ginger and pepper will also be introduced.
"These crops are dedicated export crops to enhance additional income at household level. I believe we have partners who are willing to invest in improving use of water through solar power generation.
"These are DPA Cassava Smartech and CSC. They have a role to play in enhancing value at village level."
Icrisat regional director, Dr Moses Siambi said the research institute serves a number of vital functions in support of the research fraternity in the SADC region and beyond.
He commended the Government for supporting the institution saying it has fostered research whose products continue to impact the lives of many farmers in the region.
"Sorghum varieties developed here have been released in many SADC countries and in East Africa. Our research work on understanding the management of small ruminants and development of effective market linkages is being scaled up in many countries.
"Our work of application of small amounts of fertiliser has helped farmers to understand the use of fertiliser in a risky environment," said Dr Siambi.
He said malnutrition remains a big threat to the development of African countries, adding that Icrisat needs support from partners to create awareness that small grains provide important nutrients for people to remain healthy.
Minister Ncube emphasised that there was a need for farmers to shift to drought tolerant crops to strengthen resilience of small holder farming systems to droughts.
"It's my hope that the knowledge generated from the institute be incorporated into our day to day farming practices.
"Our province and nation can't continue being affected by perennial droughts when we have renowned research institutes such as Icrisat," said Minister Ncube.