Read full article By Akayeti Emmenuel @ Modern Ghana Photo Credit: Akayeti Emmenuel
Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum (L.) R. Br.), is one of the most extensively cultivated cereals in the world, ranked sixth after rice, wheat, maize, barley and sorghum in terms of area under production with at least 30 million hectares of land used for its cultivation to feed about 100 million people in the world especially Africa and Asia of whom, majority are the poorest of the poor. In Africa, pearl millet is cultivated on at least 14 million hectares with an estimated annual grain yield of 10.4 million tons. Countries such as Burkina Faso, Chad, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal are considered as the major producing countries in West Africa, accounting for over 80% of the 14 million hectares under pearl millet cultivation.
In an interview with a PHD Candidate working on micro-nutrient in pearl millet grain Asungre Peter indicated that in Ghana, it is grown mainly in the northern parts with Upper East and North East regions being home to the early and late maturing types respectively. Pearl millet has carved a niche as a sustainable food security crop for farmers living on marginal environments, characteristic of northern Ghana, where other cereal crops such as maize and rice fail. The early maturing type matures within 65-70 days from sowing , making it gained the accolade as the ‘poor man’s crop’ or ‘hunger breaker’, as it is the first cereal crop to be harvested during the main season thus serving as a food security crop during mid-July to late August each year. Though grown mainly as a food crop, the stalks of Pearl millet are used variously as fodder, roofing and fencing materials or source of saltpetre for cooking traditional food. It is also used for some important traditional dishes such as Tuo-Zafi, Maasa (deep fried cakes), and Porridges in households. Millet products are fast becoming part of snack at most continental hotels
Pearl millet as a micronutrient rich crop
The grain of pearl millet contains appreciable amounts of micronutrients especially Fe and Zn compared with cereals such as maize, rice, wheat and sorghum. The protein content (11%) of millet is not only high, but of exceptionally good quality; the lysine content is reported to be 3.68 mg/g protein compared to 2.24 for wheat, 3.36 for rice, 3.0 for maize, and 3.2 for sorghum. Reports show that close to three billion people are currently suffering from micronutrient malnutrition, of whom majority are from Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Whiles WHO estimates that close to 11 million children die globally from Fe and Zn and Vitamin A deficiencies, Ghana Health Services reported in 2017 that two out of every three children in Ghana suffer from Fe and Zn disorders. Iron deficiency-induced anaemia (IDA) is common in children and menstruation women as well as during child birth where there is loss of blood. Prolonged deficiencies of iron and vitamin A for instance, can lead to stunting and permanent brain damage in humans. To overcome these challenges measures such as food fortification, pharmaceutical, and dietary diversification have been employed in the past but these have their own limitations. The current trend is biofortification through breeding and agronomic work. Biofortification entails a breeding process that fixes the desired trait in the crop that makes it permanently in the final product for the direct benefit of users. In the case of micronutrient, biofortification the iron and zinc levels become high in the proposed final product – seed.