Read full article By Busani Bafana @ The Standard Photo Credit: ICRISAT
Figures by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) showed that “nearly one in three children under five are suffering from malnutrition, while 93% of children between six months and two years of age are not consuming the minimum acceptable diet”.
Zimbabwe remains one of only 11 countries that have not implemented healthy eating guidelines at a national level, according to the Food Sustainability Index, created by Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) and the Economist Intelligence Unit.
The increased production of sorghum and millets could aid food security and nutrition.
Small grains are the food for the future, said Hapson Mushoriwa, lead breeder for Eastern and Southern Africa at the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat).
They are sustainable, nutritious and have a low carbon footprint, relative to maize, arising from carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide emitted into the atmosphere during production, according to Mushoriwa.
Icrisat is developing adapted varieties of six key cereals and legumes, including sorghum, pearl millet, groundnuts and pigeon pea, among others.
Mushoriwa said these crops are bred to combine high productivity, resilience, acceptable quality attributes and market preferences.
“When you look at these six mandate crops, we label them as ‘Smart Food’ because they are good for you and highly nutritious, good for the planet (they have a low water footprint and lower the carbon footprint), good for the soils and use few chemicals,” Mushoriwa told IPS.
“These crops are good for the small-holder farmer because they survive in the hardest climates, have multiple uses, potential to significantly increase yield and untapped demand.”
Small grains are an integral part of agriculture biodiversity which the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN says supports the capacity of farmers to produce food and a range of other goods and services under different environments by increasing resilience to shocks and stresses.
The erosion of agro-biodiversity, combined with an emphasis on input-intensive cropping systems, has, arguably, lowered the resilience of food systems in the global South, said Katarzyna Dembska, a researcher at the BCFN Foundation, an independent and multi-disciplinary think-tank that analyses the economic, scientific, social and environmental factors about food.
Dembska said the utilisation of traditional and indigenous food resources in Africa, namely barley, millet, sorghum, millet cowpea and leafy vegetables, should be emphasised for achieving food security and nutrition.
“The under-utilised food resources have a much higher nutrient, and in times of high climate uncertainty, the diversification of staple crops can guarantee food system resilience,” Dembska told IPS.