• Demand for finger millet in the country is at about 5,000,000 tonnes per year.
• National production is slightly under one million tonnes.
University students have been encouraged to create innovations on millet value addition to drive global awareness on the significance of the crop.
To actualise this, Unilever in partnership with Farm To Market Alliance and the University of Nairobi has announced the Great Millet Quest.
Unilever CEO Luck Ochieng' said the competition seeks to inspire university students to develop sustainable and innovative millet products.
He said the products will contribute to a robust and nourishing future.
"The Great Millet Quest initiative is a transformative initiative designed to unlock the untapped potential of millet in shaping the future of agriculture," Ochieng said.
He said the competition specifically targets students from UoN – College of Agriculture and Veterinary Services.
Ochieng said the Millet Quest is not just a competition but a call to action for students to become ambassadors for a sustainable and nutritious future.
He said the crop has the potential to reshape the agricultural future.
“The initiative's objective is to establish millet ambassadors who will advocate for sustainable agriculture and promote innovative concepts fostering a sustainable demand for millet, thus contributing to diversifying food sources,” Ochieng' said.
Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation director Dr Lusike Wasilwa said despite the growing demand for millet, production is still below standard.
She said the current demand for finger millet in the country is about five million tonnes per year while production is slightly under one million tonnes.
Wasilwa said the initiative is timely and will promote diversification and make millet a suitable alternative cereal for food security.
She said there has been an uptake of some of the millet varieties released by KALRO, especially in Kericho, Bomet and Nakuru counties.
“We have farmers in Nakuru growing more than 100 acres of finger millet and this is a first because in the past, just a few farmers planted the crop in not more than an eighth of an acre,” Wasilwa said.
The crop systems expert said there is a high demand for millet especially in hospitals, as it is a preferred meal for breakfasts.
“Schools are also using finger millet instead of tea and when weaning children, millet also becomes one of the weaning foods," she said.
"When it comes to the senior generation, finger millet is a one whole food because it gives you fibre, carbohydrates, vitamin C and iron. Finger millet has gone from what we call an orphan crop to a crop of choice.”
She said access to certified seed is a challenge that has limited production.
KALRO has so far released eight varieties, which are being multiplied by farmers.
Ochieng said the country spends about Sh2 billion on imports.
“We will be doing a lot better if we do that locally rather than continuing to spend the money on imports,” he said.
“Part of what we want to achieve by involving the youth in this is to drive the likability for it. The youth are very creative so we are looking for opportunities for them to innovate and bring products and usage that will be relevant to the community's demography.”
Winner of the Great Millet Quest will receive a cash prize of Sh500,000 while second and third best will receive Sh250,000 and Sh100,000.
The competition will from January to March 2024.
Farm to Market Alliance deputy director Annastasia Mbatia said the organisation has adopted a demand-led approach that puts empowerment of farmers at the heart of its work.
She said this is achieved by building a network of self-sustaining Farmer Service Centres that provide a variety of services to enhance farmers' productivity, increase market linkages and encourage farm digitisation.
Mbatia said through the centers, farmers are trained on climate smart agriculture, proper agricultural farming practices and technologies to increase farm productivity.