Finger millet can help address malnutrition

Participants at a finger millet seed production plot in KALRO-Alupe Research Centre. Photo: P Audi, ICRISAT

Finger millet can play a key role in fighting malnutrition and bringing down the numbers of malnourished children under five years of age.

“Finger millet is high in calcium, zinc and iron. Hence it is good for children, young women and breast-feeding mothers. It possesses important amino acids, which help fight malnutrition and degenerative diseases,” said Dr Rhoda Nungo, Food Nutritionist, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) – Alupe Research Centre, Busia. She was speaking at a training program led by ICRISAT.

By working in synergy with the Beyond Zero Campaign spearheaded by the First Lady of Kenya, HE Margaret Gakuo Kenyatta, the level of malnourished children under the age of five can be reduced from the current 30% to 15% or less, she said.

The Beyond Zero Campaign targets infants, pregnant women, breast-feeding mothers and children below five years with the goal of reducing food insecurity and eliminating maternal deaths.

Dr Rhoda also stressed on imbibing healthy eating habits in order to fight hidden hunger, malnutrition and disease. She said it can be achieved by promoting consumption of smart foods like sorghum, finger millet and groundnuts that have high nutritional benefits. Groundnuts contain heart-friendly fats, have a high concentration of antioxidants and are a good source of folates and vitamins. Finger millet besides being good for children and mothers is good for the elderly and diabetics as it takes longer to digest and glucose is released slowly into the blood. Sorghum too has high nutritional value, with high levels of unsaturated fats, protein, fiber and minerals like phosphorus, potassium, calcium and iron.

At the inaugural session, Mr Daniel Otwani, Research Assistant, ICRISAT, outlined the objectives of the training which include:

  • Improved crop production practices in sorghum, finger millet and groundnuts;
  • Community-based high quality seed production, storage and distribution;
  • Value addition, diversified food uses and nutritional benefits of sorghum, finger millet and groundnuts;
  • Crop cut techniques for yield estimation; and
  • Forum for knowledge and experience sharing between project partners.

Dr Patrick Audi, Project Coordinator, ICRISAT, gave an overview of the Feed The Future-Accelerated Value Chain Development (FTF-AVCD) program. The project goal is enhancing household nutrition and rural economic growth through upgrading of sorghum, finger millet, groundnuts, pearl millet and pigeonpea value chains. It is being implemented by ICRISAT, KALRO, County Governments of Siaya, Busia, Makueni, Kitui, Elgeyo Marakwet, Tharaka Nthi and Embu.

The five key deliverables of the project are:

  • Access to high quality seeds of improved varieties;
  • Enhanced productivity and profitability;
  • Improved postharvest handling practices;
  • Enhanced utilization- value addition,
  • Commercialization and diversification of food uses including smart food; and
  • Enhanced linkage to product and input markets.

The other key presentations during the training were sorghum agronomy and seed production by Dr Eric Manyasa, Scientist, Cereals Breeding, Dryland Cereals, Kenya; finger millet agronomy and seed production by Mr Otwani and groundnut agronomy and seed production by Mr Boaz Okwiri.

Mr Samson Achina, Director of Agriculture, Busia County, who inaugurated the training, lauded the knowledge sharing forum between the different stakeholders and the extension staff from Siaya and Busia Counties, in particular. He encouraged the participants to share their field experiences and challenged them to work towards reducing poverty levels, currently estimated to be 60%, to below 40% in the two counties. He emphasized that FTF-AVCD program should focus on crops that exhibit comparative advantage in household nutrition, productivity and profitability. Furthermore, Kenya has a huge deficit in groundnut production which was an opportunity for farmers and other groundnuts value chain participants in the two counties to enhance their income from improved efficiency in the groundnut value chain. The other guests were Ms Florence Kigunzu, Sub-County Agricultural Officer (SCAO), Matayos Sub-County, Busia County; and Ms Sarah Mango, SCAO, Gem Sub-County, Siaya County.

At the end of training, the participants prepared work plans for implementation on field days for 2015-2016 cropping season that aims to reach about 2,000 farms with information on improved technologies; and scaling up activities for long rains 2016 targeting over 5,000 farmers in each county with seed of finger millet, sorghum and groundnuts. The training was attended by 30 county extension officers from Siaya and Busia Counties.

The training was organized at the Agricultural Training Centre (ATC), Busia on 7-8 January by the Drought Tolerant Crops (DTCs) component of the FTF-AVCD Program for Kenya.

Project: Accelerated Value Chain Development Program – Drought Tolerant Crops component

Investor: Feed the Future/USAID

Partners: KALRO-Kenya, County Governments

CGIAR Research Program: Dryland Cereals

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