From sorghum pilau, to millet ugali and groundnut uji, there is no shortage of tantalising dishes that can be made from these nutritious crops. But many Kenyans do not consume them regularly, until they are in poor health and the doctor advises them to do so.
A new Sh470 million campaign now seeks to return these “traditional foods” like sorghum, millet, pigeon peas and groundnuts back to dinner tables.
Dr Moses Siambi, Eastern and Southern Africa director for International Crop Research Institute for the semi-arid tropics (Icrisat), an international research centre says the ‘big three’ crops, namely, maize, wheat and rice are locally and globally dominant in terms of research, consumption, infrastructure and trade. He however adds that sorghum, millet and legumes have limited investments, and are perceived to be for the poor.
“It is for this reason that we have launched the smart food campaign to create awareness. These drought tolerant crops - sorghum, millet, pigeon pea and groundnuts-are under-recognised yet they have high nutritional value, are resilience under extreme weather and have multiple untapped uses,” Siambi notes.
The campaign will start in January 2016 and will run for three years at a costs of $4.6 million (about Sh470 million). It will target about 45,000 farmers in Busia, Siaya, Keiyo Marakwet, Makueni, Kitui and Tharaka Nithi. “A lot of this money will go into making variety seed available to farmers in these counties,” he says.
Siambi also says the campaign seeks to increase production and demand for the nutri-resilient crops thus benefiting the farmer and consumer.
“It will also change the image of and increase awareness about the crops, their value, use and preparation. We will support farmers to produce more to meet the demand through increasing availability of high quality seed as well as training farmers and seed companies to produce the seeds,” he said during the 2015 Kenya Science Journalists Congress in Nairobi last week.
He adds that the smart foods campaign is keen to promote adoption of improved varieties of the crops, work with women and the youth to increase household consumption thus enhancing nutrition.
“We also hope to streamline the marketing of the crops and link farmers to lucrative markets so as to increase household incomes. Work with food processors to develop ready to eat, trendy food products and conduct marketing advertising for their products highlighting the nutritional values of sorghum and millets,” Siambi says.
According to research, sorghum in Africa and Asia is mainly used as food and more recently as poultry feed while in the United States and Australia it is used to feed cattle.
Millet production is only about two per cent of the world cereal production but it is an important staple food crop in semi-arid regions. But it is generally limited to fields with low soil fertility and poor rainfall conditions.
Asia and Africa account for about 95 per cent of the total millet production in the world, with Asia accounting for 40 per cent mainly in India and China. Africa accounts for 55 per cent of total production in Kenya, Nigeria, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali.
“We are hoping that this will be of help to many people, health wise and that it will also create a new avenue for entrepreneurship. We want farmers who are producing these crops to derive livelihoods out of them by providing varieties that have more production. This will also release the pressure on maize and make use of the dry areas,” he adds.
As the campaign goes forward, he says they will work with millers to ensure there are genuine products in the shops for the consumers.
The Smart Food campaign is also hoping to link up with the food industry mainly hotels in the local areas where people are producing the crop.
“These foods have very good nutritional values and people should consume them and not wait until a doctor tells them so. They are good for your health and will also help the farmers in the marginal areas to make a living by selling the surplus to pay for school fees and to pay for all the other necessities that they require. Let us not wait until a foreign NGO comes up and starts promoting them and then we buy,” he advises.