Read full article By Mzansi Agriculture Talk News @ MZANSI Photo Credit: MZANSI

The most common staple grain across Africa is refined maize, very low in proteins, essential amino acids and micronutrients. Small grains such as millet and sorghum are widely considered a probable solution to addressing not just the food security challenge, but also malnutrition and lifestyle diseases. However, getting these small grains to be accepted as superfood on people’s plates remains an uphill task. What then might be the way forward for practice, research and policy?

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A joint policy brief by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), and the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), presented ‘proof of concept’ results which showed that a diet combining legumes and millets provided complete quality protein and power-packed nutrients. This combination is necessary because whilst legumes are the most common plant-based protein source that is most affordable than most alternatives, they are low in one of the essential amino acids – methionine, ably complemented by the millets.

Key Conclusions from the Study

The conclusions extracted from the detailed results of the proof of concept study illustrated the following:

  • Legumes are high in protein (14-22%). A serving of 100 grams provides 50-100% of the daily value of protein required by adults.
  • Legumes are low in one essential amino acid – methionine; but millets are 100% higher in methionine than legumes.
  • Millets are high in micronutrients; especially when selected by type and variety.
  • Protein digestibility of millets was 47 to 95%, whilst legumes were 70 to 88%; Pearl millet (Dhansakti variety) had the highest protein digestibility at 95%.
  • Cooking process increased the protein digestibility for all the millet and legume combinations.
  • Maximum nutritional benefits accrue when millets and legumes are combined in a 3:1 proportion.

Commenting on the study and its potential impact, the Chief Executive Officer FANRPAN, Dr Tshilidzi Madzivhandila said, “This new data further emphasises the need to diversify our staples and our diets.

These foods and combinations can open new markets for millets, pigeon and chick peas in Africa and further afield”. He indicated that there was need for accompanying policy measures to promote the adoption of this pioneering work on combining plant based proteins and millets.

Dr. Joanna Kane-Potaka, the Assistant Director General responsible for External Relations at ICRISAT and also the Executive Director of Smart Food initiative weighed in on the issue saying, “Whilst there is rising global popularity of plant based proteins, few people are knowledgeable about plant based proteins, whether they have all the essential amino acids or not. Food combinations, like millets and legumes have the advantage of not only being a complete and quality protein, but also a powerful nutri-basket”.