Read full article By Busani Bafana @ Inter Press Service Photo Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Oct 27 2020 (IPS) – For Zimbabwean farmer Sinikiwe Sibanda, planting more sorghum and millet than maize has paid off.
As the coronavirus pandemic has led to decreased incomes and increased food prices across the southern African nation — it is estimated that more than 8 million Zimbabweans will need food aid until the next harvest season in March — Sibanda’s utilisation of traditional and indigenous food resources could provide a solution to food security here.
Sibanda, a farmer in Nyamandlovu, 42 km north-west of Bulawayo, harvested two tonnes of millet this year, compared to less than 700 kg of maize. Some farmers did not harvest maize at all but those who planted sorghum and millet have enough food to last the next harvest season. And Sibanda is pleased to have the harvest despite the poor rainfall in the 2018/9 farming season.
She is one of an increasing number of farmers from semi-arid areas with little rain who are shifting from growing white maize to hardy, traditional sorghum and millet for food and nutrition security.
“I love maize but the frequent drought is making it difficult to grow it regularly,” Sibanda, told IPS during a visit to her 42-hectare farm in the semi-arid Matabeleland North Province of Zimbabwe. Sibanda says she now plants just 5 hectares of her farm. She used to plant 10 hectares but the high costs of seed, labour and uncertain rainfall each year has forced her to scale down.
“I learnt my lesson last season and planted one hectare under pearl millet, another under sorghum and a bigger portion under maize but millet produced the best yield,” Sibanda, who has grown pearl millet and sorghum since 2015, said.
“Drought every year has reduced maize yields and many times I harvest nothing if I do not replant mid-way through the season,” she says. “Maize needs more rain and easily wilts when we have poor rains as we did this year but I am able to harvest something with small grains.”
Even livestock farmers are turning to sorghum. Livestock breeder Obert Chinhamo is intercropping sorghum and maize under rain-fed production at his Biano Farm, 30km south of Bulawayo. He processes the sorghum and maize into silage for feeding his 300 pedigree Simmental cattle during the dry season when pastures become scarce and poor in nutrients. Chinhamo is teaching farmers to make their own feed using rain-fed sorghum.
The shift it eating millet foods has not been an easy one for Sibanda’s family. Zimbabwe is a maize-loving nation where maize flour is eaten at least thrice a day when it is available.
Though Sibanda said she enjoys millet flour, with which she makes tasty porridge and isitshwala (a carbohydrate staple food made from millet meal) even though her urbanised children do not enjoy.
“It thickens quicker than maize flour, it tastes good and is healthy too,” chuckled Sibanda.
Small grains, big on nutrition
According to Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS), “the deteriorating economy and consecutive droughts were already driving high food assistance needs; the COVID-19 pandemic and measures implemented to prevent the virus’ spread are further exacerbating an already deteriorating food security situation. Humanitarian assistance needs during the January to March 2021 peak of the lean season are expected to be above normal, with widespread areas in crisis.”
Food insecure households here require assistance to facilitate adequate dietary intake and prevent deterioration of the nutrition status of children, women and other vulnerable groups like the disabled, says United Nations Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Zimbabwe.
According to the February 2020 Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee rapid assessment, global acute malnutrition prevalence increased from the 3.6 percent to 3.7 percent at national level. The drought-prone provinces of Masvingo and Matabeleland North and South were most affected.
Figures by the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) showed that “nearly 1 in 3 children under five are suffering from malnutrition, while 93 percent of children between 6 months and 2 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 (FSI), created by Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) and the Economist Intelligence Unit.