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February 19, 2012

Tanzania: regional official encourages more millet, sorghum farming; less maize

In any given year, there is going to be a serious shortage in several of the many countries for which maize is the main staple crop. The maize deficit merely seems to shift around from country to country or region to region depending on climate, environmental, political and economic factors.

Many coping strategies are being tried all across the continent. Research into varieties it is hoped will be more resilient against the growing climate and soil fertility challenges maize cultivation increasingly face. Even if successful, there is no way to predict to what extent this will contribute to a solution to the fact that the maize-growing environment of much of Africa is becoming unfavorable. The provision of fertilizer and other inputs is talked about endlessly, but delivery is something else and in any case. In any case, inputs are of little use where the rain is below the minimum required to make those inputs useful.

All the signs each year suggest that for many African countries, maize is becoming a dangerous crop on which to primarily depend for food security. Yet so entrenched has the maize mindset become that it is proving too much of a leap for many to start seriously looking at the need to change or at least modify diets to reduce the depressingly frequent specter of maize famines. There are also many influential interests whose interests are in one way or another tied up in maize deficits- traders in Africa and abroad, politicians, donors whose farmers benefit, the aid industry and many others. Maize famines mean good business for them.

But there are isolated voices increasingly heard that are suggesting that all the current maize measures are band-aids that do not address the basic problem that conditions in many parts of Africa no longer support its sustainable cultivation.

Writing in The Guardian newspaper, Lusekelo Philemon said the Regional Commissioner of Arusha in Tanzania, Magesa Mulongo, has urged farmers to adopt the farming of drought-tolerant millet and sorghum.

He said, “Sorghum varieties are very friendly in those areas which get little rainfall,” which is a description that characterizes more of Africa in general each year.

He urged farmers to refrain from traditional crops like maize, because of how they are ‘very sensitive to climatic variability.

Mulongo used the occasion of the commissioning of a private millet-milling plant to assure farmers that drought-tolerant ‘small grains’ like millet and sorghum not only made sense for food security in rain-challenged regions, but also had commercial markets.

“Some entrepreneurs are now trying to add value to agro-related crops like millet and sorghum, which for many years were not being regarded as cash crops,” Mulongo said.

African Agriculture

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