Counter climate change effects: promote climate resilient millet
By Philip Tengzu
Millet farming in the Upper West Region seems to be dwindling as farmers now focus their attention on the production of other crops such as maize, groundnut and cowpea among others.
Available statistics indicated that over the years, the demand for millet in Ghana had surpassed the production and supply of the produce.
According to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA), in 2017 the country recorded 164, 680 metric tons on millet, a slight increment from 159,020 metric tons recorded in 2016.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) also recorded 166, 945 metric tons of millet in 2017, about 4.7 per cent increase on 159, 017 metric tons recorded in 2016.
However, within the same period there were a deficit of 1,508 metric tons and 3,197 metric tons in 2017 and 2017 respectively. This clearly, is an indication that millet production in the country was increasing in a decreasing rate.
What caused the decline?
Dr George Y. Mahamma, an Agronomist at the Wa station of the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR-SARI), said government had not shown any commitment to promoting the crop in Ghana.
According to him, since 1950 when the first variety was released by a British scientist in Ghana, SARI released five other improved varieties 65 years later, that is, 2015, with support from the West Africa Agriculture Productivity Programme (WAAPP).
These were; Akad-kom, kanaati; Naad-Kohblug, WAAPNara and Afribeh Nara for cultivation in the five regions of the north.
“There is lack of government support in Ghana for production, processing and use of pearl millet that are tolerant to drought, which has resulted to people in the drier areas changing their taste from pearl millet to maize”, he said.
The indifferent attitude towards the production of millet in Ghana was also evident in the exclusion of the crop from its flagship programme of Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ), which was an intervention to promote the agricultural sector.
Farmers who registered under the programme were provided with improved seeds of maize, groundnut, rice and soybean among others, while relegating millet to the background.
This goes to buttress the reason why millet had been described as “orphan” crop.
The few farmers who still cultivated the crop were unable to maximize its high yield and it’s tolerant to drought and poor soils, owing to the high Post Harvest Losses they incurred.
Mr Issah Yakubu is a farmer at Kpongu in the Wa Municipality and to him the drudgery involved in the millet farming process has discouraged many farmers from venturing into the sector.
According to him, last year he cultivated three acres of millet and has planned to increase the production this farming season. But, his major worry was how to harvest the produce if he farmed on a larger scale.
“Harvesting the millet is my challenge because I will have to cut them down, my wives will then cut heads with a knife and put them on the floor. After that I will get some of my colleagues to beat it and the women will winnow it” said Mr Yakubu.
One other challenge he faced was the lack of access to improved millet seeds. He said he was not even aware if there were improved seeds for millet like other crops such as maize, ground and cowpea.
Mr Yakubu said if he had access to improved seeds it could increase yields because what he farms was conventional varieties he inherited from his ground parents yet it yield well without he applying fertilizer.
Madam Harria Yakubu is one of the two wives of Mr Yakubu and explained that they lost a lot of the millet produce through the harvesting, especially at the threshing and winnowing stage, some are carried away by the wind while others get stuck in the cracks on the floor.
“We smear ash on our bodies to avoid direct contact with the millet husk because it causes our skin to itch, you can still even feel the itch after bathing”, she added.
Benefit of millet
Though production of this crop could positively impact the economy and livelihood of farmers, the government had not shown much interest in the crop.
Madam Yakubu was aware that millet was more nutritious than maize and could also fetch the family a lot of money. According to her a bowl of millet could cost as much as GH₵ 7.50 while a bowl of maize was GH₵ 3.50.
“We know millet has more nutrients that maize but we don’t use it for food, only porridge, because it is only rich people who eat millet. We can sell one bag of millet and buy two bags of maize”, she said.
Available research indicated that the nutritional value of millet surpasses that of maize with about 60 per cent higher in crude protein and 40 per cent richer in amino acids.
To this end, the Policy Officer for the Ghana Trade and Livelihood Coalition (GTLC), Mr Emmanuel Wullingdool said encouraging millet cultivation and consumption among the people could help reduce the malnutrition among children since it had high nutritional value.
The way forward
Considering the potential of millet to transform, not only the economy of farmers, but also the national economy, it was prudent for both the government and the private sector to give millet farming the necessary policy attention and to support farmers with mechanization services and improved seed varieties.
Excluding the crop from the PFJ programme is a big blow and discouragement to some farmers who, in spite of the challenges associated with its cultivation, still had the interest of producing millet on a large scale.
Farmers like Mr Yakubu would appreciate any initiative from any direction in the form of credit facility or threshing equipment to enable them to cultivate the crop on a larger scale.
The GTLC Policy Officer said a large proportion the grains were lost in the manual harvesting, threshing and winnowing process as it was done on the bare floor, and said it affected their output.
This also goes to underscore the dire need for the efforts to be put in place to reduce Post Harvest Losses among farmers.
It does highly commendable that, with support from the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV), the GTLC had been working to reduce Post Harvest Losses (PHLs) among farmers, with the latest intervention being the institution of a PHL management Platform.
The multi-sectoral platform, under the SNV Voice for Change (V4C) partnership, comprised representatives of eleven organisations including the media, governmental and non-governmental organisations, CSOs, the private sector and research institutions to ensure a well coordinated action and approach towards managing PHL in the Upper West Region.
It also behooves on farmers to be at par with agricultural technology such as improved seed varieties whenever it was made available to them.
They also ought to disregard any campaign against the introduction of potent and high yielding crop varieties that could reduce their cost of production and increased yield.
If conventional millet could grow and yield relatively well on poor soil and were resistant to drought, then engineered millet could do even better than farmers could expect, impacting positively on their lives and the national economy.