Millets, often called “Nutri-Cereals” due to their high nutritional content can grow on poor soils with little inputs. They are resistant and tolerant to many crop diseases and pests and can survive adverse climatic conditions. With the imminent effects and impact of climate change, investing in cultivation of millets is imperative and urgent to address the growing food and nutrition security challenges.
In March 2021, the UN General Assembly at its 75th session declared 2023 the International Year of Millets (IYM) with the objective to raise awareness of, and direct policy attention to the nutritional and health benefits of millets and their suitability for cultivation under adverse and changing climatic conditions. Today, Zimbabwe joined the world in commemorating the International Year of Millets.
“The Government of Zimbabwe recognizes that traditional grains can contribute to the prevention and alleviation of food and nutrition insecurity in the face of climate change as is being witnessed with more years of limited rainfall and long mid-season dry spells that are affecting crop production and productivity in the country,” said Honourable Vangelis Haritatos, Deputy Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development during the official opening of the celebrations.
The celebrations were held in held Masvingo, the country’s oldest city resonating with this year’s IYM slogan “rich in heritage, full of potential.” The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) and the Government of Zimbabwe through the Ministry responsible for Agriculture, development and implementing partners with support of the Italian Government coordinated the IYM celebrations.
“We encourage Zimbabwe and Southern Africa to take action to conserve, protect, restore, sustainably manage and use millet biodiversity. The success of millets depend on the deliberate actions to restore millets at the centre of production, enhance the preference of millet based diets, increased consumption and utility. In addition, their climate resilience and adaptability offer opportunities for strengthening food security and bolstering economic growth,” said Patrice Talla, FAO Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa and FAO Representative to Zimbabwe in his remarks at the celebrations.
FAO and the International Treaty on promotion of millets
The International Treaty is the major global agreement to manage plant genetic resources for food and agriculture around the world for the benefit of people everywhere. Promotion of millets is within the narrative of the new fit-for-purpose FAO’s Strategy on Climate Change which encompasses game-changing, innovative and science-based solutions, through effective collaboration and strong partnerships working collectively towards the achievement of SDGs.
“The International Treaty operates a unique Multilateral System of Access and Benefit Sharing that provides farmers, researchers and plant breeders around the world to access over 2.4 million samples of seeds and other plant genetic material, including millets. These plant genetic resources help farmers grow the kind of crops best suited to their national and local conditions. We need to increase the efforts on conservation and use and raise awareness about millets,” said Kent Nnadozie, Secretary of the ITPGRFA during the celebrations.
Aligning to FAO’s Strategic Framework and Zimbabwe’s Country Programming Framework priority on building resilience to climate change, the celebrations presented an opportunity to highlight the benefits of millets for Better production, Better nutrition, a Better environment and a Better Life – leaving no one behind.
Sharing experiences of millet cultivation for a better life in Zimbabwe
Organized under the auspices of the FAO-Plant Treaty secretariat, its Benefit-Sharing Fund (BSF) implementation partner, the Community Technology Development Organization (CTDO) and the European Union funded Capacity Building Related to Multilateral Environmental Agreements of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP-MEAs 3), the celebrations renewed and enhanced the government’s strategic drive to implement its obligations under the ITPGRFA. The IYM celebrations have been possible with major contributions from the European Union, Italy and Norway.
Acknowledging that it’s time to remember millets and make a collective effort throughout the world to showcase their rich potential, the celebrations facilitated field visits to projects in Manicaland and Masvingo provinces presenting a unique opportunity to learn and share experiences of millets cultivation in the country. In Masvingo, the delegation visited the Shashe School of Agroecology touring finger millets, pearl millets, sorghum fields and sorghum participatory varietal demonstration sites and gene banks.
“As smallholder farmers in the Shashe district, we are celebrating with the rest of the world the International Year of Millets which has come at an opportune time when most of us are shifting towards increasing production of these important crops that contribute a lot towards achieving food sovereignty and nutrition at household level,” said Nelson Mudzingwa, a local farmer and National Coordinator for the Zimbabwe Smallholder Organic Farmers Forum.
The celebrations agreed on adoption of millets and scaling up production as part of the immediate operationalization and implementation of the national Traditional Grains Policy of Zimbabwe which the Government has just finalized. A discussion on strengthening science-policy interaction and inclusion of women and youths agreed on investing in science-based millet breeding and production programmes. The celebrations concluded agreeing that in view of the Government’s support, there was need to take advantage of the enabling policy landscape for millet promotion and production in Zimbabwe and the region at large.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of FAO Regional Office for Africa.