The production levels of millet are declining in many countries including Zambia despite its potential to address food and nutritional security as well as to generate incomes.
Millets have been part of the traditional food of tropical communities for centuries as they were among the first staple food crops cultivated across Asia and Africa.
The crop has multifaceted benefits as it is not only good for the health of the people but also for the planet and a good crop to farmers.
Modern science has validated millet as being highly nutritious and beneficial to health hence the urgent need to promote the importance of the crop.
The United Nations General Assembly at its 75th Session accepted India’s proposal to declare 2023 as the International Year of Millets.
The proposal was endorsed by the members of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FOA) governing board.
The International Year of Millets would among other things elevate awareness of the contribution of millet to food and nutritional security.
This will inspire stakeholders to improve sustainable production and quality of millets and draw focus for enhanced investments in research and development and extension services.
India is the topmost producer of millets followed by Niger and China.
India dominates the global area under millet at 30 per cent and production at 40 per cent.
The country has in terms of yields produced an average of 1.239 tonnes per hectare of millet from 2016-2021.
In Zambia millets have been widely cultivated as a traditional crop and 39, 095 metric tonnes of millet were produced in the 2021-2022 farming season.
The crops rank as the second most important staple diet crop in the country after maize.
Indian Commissioner to Zambia Ashok Kumar said during the commemoration of 2023 as an International Year of Millets that it was gratifying to know that millet was widely cultivated as a traditional crop in Zambia.
Mr Kumar says India looks forward to renewed cooperation in the production of millet with Zambia which ranks the crop as the second most important staple diet crop in the country.
He says millets are the most secure crops to the small-scale farmers as they are resilient and adapt to drought environments.
“Millets are efficient in utilising the available nutrients and also respond well for improved farm conditions and additional applications of inputs and result in increased yield,” he says.
Mr Kumar says millets will play a significant role in addressing food insecurity and nutrition.
He says President Hakainde Hichilema’s words at the Feed Africa Summit in Dakar that food security forms a base upon which development can be realised and is important for socio-economic development and social security are highly relevant in the present scenario of growing food insecurity.
Agriculture Minister Mtolo Phiri said when he officiated at the Millet Food Festival that millets are quickly becoming a favourite crop among countries affected by climate change because of their ability to thrive in harsh environments.
Mr Phiri says 2023 as an International Year of Millets therefore provides a unique opportunity to increase Zambia’s level of production, ensure efficient processing and consumption and also promote a better utilisation of the crop rotation.
He says the International Year of Millets will also encourage better connectivity throughout food systems to promote millets as a key component of the food basket.
Mr Phiri says the production levels of millet in the country are declining despite their potential to address food and national security.
He says according to the crop Forecast Survey of 2022 and the Zambia Statistic Agency (ZamStats) , millet production in Zamia declined by 33 per cent from 58,859 tonnes in 2020/21 to 39,095 tonnes in the 2021/22 farming season.
Mr Phiri attributes the reduction in the production levels of millets to the government decision to remove the crop from the Farmer Input Support Programs (FISP) which he says will be reversed.
Between 1990 and 2008 according to the Zamstats, of 2009, Zambia produced an annual average of 75, 000 tonnes of millets compared to about 102, 000 tonnes of maize.
There is, however, hope that the production levels for the crop will be improve with the growing interest from the local private sector.
Mr Phiri says in recent times the commercial sector has increased the demand for millets, especially sorghum, which is being used as malt in clear and opaque beer brewing.
Mr Phiri sas the decline in millet production calls for an urgent need to promote the importance of the crop, particularly the nutritional ecological benefits of millets to consumers, producers and decision makers.
He says this is to improve production efficiencies, research and development investments and food sector linkages.
“Millets have been widely viewed as a minor crop in the Zambian food systems over the years. The domestic consumption of millets in the country is relatively low and until recently was confined to the rural households, yet over the years, they have ranked as the second most important staple crop after maize,” he said.
Mr Phiri says in commemorating the International Year of Millets, the Government of Zambia in collaboration with the government of India and
FAO has lined up a number of activities spread over the year to raise awareness of the contribution of millet for food and nutrition security.
He says the Government stands ready to continue collaborating and working with India, FAO and other like minds to push the millet agenda forward as well as commercialising it.
Mr Phiri further urges millers in the country to take advantage of the promotion of millet as a key crop in ensuring food security by adding millet flour to the market.
FAO representative, Suze Percy Fillippi says by 2050 feeding a global population of almost 10 billion would require a radical transformation in how food is produced, processed, traded and consumed.
Ms Fillippi says feeding this expanded population will require substantial improvements to global, regional and local food systems.
This to provide decent employment and livelihoods for producers and every actor along the food chain and offer nutritious products for consumers for the better production, nutrition, environment and lives.
She says millets offer promising livelihood opportunities for small-scale as other cereals have become widespread, dietary preferences have shifted and led to a decline in the production and demand for millets.
Ms Filippi says by encouraging the consumption and production of these underutilised crops, Zambia and the world at large could help millet regain market share and create additional opportunities for small-scale farmers.
She says in the wake of sudden shocks that have affected the food grain market, millets can provide a valuable alternative to typically-traded grains.
Ms Filippi says this added diversity can improve the resilience of the global grain trade market and mitigate the reliance on other grains.
She adds that if used innovatively, millets can offer greater market opportunities for regional and international trade including in diverse and innovate applications in areas such as therapeutic and pharmaceuticals.
“Millet trade could improve the diversity of the global food system. Currently, millets account for less than three per cent of the global grains trade,” she says.
Ms Filippi says FAO will continue working closely with the Zambian government and key factors such as the private sector, civil society
organisations, regional economic community organisations among others in social, economic and environment across global, regional and local
She says this is because FAO believes that only by mainstreaming food system development and turning holistic diagnostic approaches into
actions, policies and investments would the challenges facing food systems be addressed.
On the same issue, United Nations resident coordinator, Beatrice Mutali says it is good that the Indian government working with the
Zambian government and FAO is already embarking on activities promoting the production of millets such as the inaugural event.
Ms Mutali says the UN hopes that the inaugural event will culminate into joint efforts that will lead to unprecedented growth in the production of millet which is one of the most important crops in Zambia.
She says over the past two decades, Zambia with support of cooperating partners has put in place several measures in various sectors of the economy to address poverty, hunger, and malnutrition and income inequality.
However progress in addressing these challenges has been slow.
Ms Mutali said with heightened prospects for acute food insecurity and hunger, there is need for crop diversification by promoting crops suitable for cultivation in toughest environments.
The promotion of millet as a key crop in ensuring food security through increased production is cardinal in addressing poverty, malnutrition and income inequality.
Given the political will shown by the Zambian government to increase the production levels of millet, the country will be able to have a transformed local agricultural food system that is more efficient, resilient and inclusive.
By expanding production of millet, the Government would be playing a key role in helping millet regain market share and create additional opportunities for small-scale farmers while commercialising the consumption of the cereal.