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Will this endangered African superfood be on the festive menu?

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To wrap up the International Year of Millets, experts discuss the prospects of this ancient superfood. 

Millet is making a ‘comeback,’ decades after falling out of favor with farmers and consumers alike.

 

Among its many advantages, millets are highly resilient to drought and provide multiple nutrients through a variety of traditional and modern recipes.

 

Over 12 different species of this grain originated in Africa. “What is marvelous about millets is that they are among the earliest domesticated crops,” said Kenyan plant breeding and finger millet expert Chrispus Oduori during a live-streamed discussion on GLF Live titled “Are millets the superfood of the future?”. “However, they are the least cultivated today.”

 

“They have wide environmental adaptability, they are resilient to climatic and biotic stresses, and they are nutritious, more so in terms of minerals, calcium and fiber. They are gluten-free, and they contain antioxidants and essential amino acids.”

 

Why make 2023 the International Year of Millets? 

 

However, Oduori warns that millets are at risk of going extinct. This is due to multiple factors: they are usually cultivated in areas of low economic capacity, and there is limited knowledge of their value and insufficient investment in their value chain, from research and development to making farming technology affordable.

 

Fortunately, many impactful initiatives are already underway. “Agencies like the Crop Trust have given us resources and enabled us to collect wild relatives [of millet seeds], from where we can get desirable genes to incorporate into the landraces and commercial varieties and make better-yielding varieties with the desired properties.”

 

Millet is experiencing a revival in Kenya, where it is consumed mainly in the form of a polenta-like dish known as ugali, a porridge called ‘uji’ or even beer. “We are adopting the ‘agricultural product value chain approach,’ so that the value chain can grow and have more people eat nutritious millets,” said Oduori.

 

“Declaring this the Year of the Millet has helped tremendously to introduce the grain to a lot of people,” said Ghanaian chef and Indigenous advocate Wisdom Abiro during the same GLF Live conversation.

 

“With the NGO Ghana Food Movement, [we’re] looking at creative ways of reintroducing neglected or underused species like millets to make them more appealing to the younger generations because millets are superfoods, they are amazing,” Abiro added before preparing two Ghanaian millet recipes on stream: the drink ‘zomkorm’ and the Indigenous preparation ‘konkogre’ (or millet k.k.).

 

Abiro emphasized that this grain has served to provide families with nutritious and easy-to-make food after a day out on the farm. It has also served as a peace-settling offer between communities in conflict due to hunger, and it can help bolster food security in Africa amid grain shortages, such as those caused by the conflict in Ukraine, he said. “These grains do not just come to us as food. They have a lot of history.”

 

“Celebrating millet this year is a big thing. I hope that we continue the conversation, stirring up demand. In times when we realize that climate change is a big factor, these are some of the grains we should be talking about.”

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