Henry Ojulong: About passion, finger millet and global food demand
The United Nations predicts that the world population will be 9 billion by 2050, and that crop production will need to increase by 70% to meet the global demand. This is why Dr. Henry Ojulong, an ICRISAT- HOPE Project scientist – based in Nairobi, is passionately working towards enhancing productivity of finger millet to contribute to the expected global food demand.
Finger millet is a staple food for millions of resource poor people in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Among the cereal crops, finger millet has the highest nutritional value – high in calcium, iron and limiting amino acid. The grains are used to prepare different dishes. It is used as infant food and is considered a health food for adults of all ages. Due to its high nutritive value, in Swahili it is called “ulezi”, meaning food for bringing up children.
“The yield of finger millet is, however, still low and research on the crop is recent and limited. We therefore need to develop improved and better varieties that meet the needs of farmers and consumers,” explains Dr. Ojulong. The major constraints limiting finger millet production and productivity include blast disease and poor crop management practices such as seed broadcasting and late weeding. Yield losses due to blast disease (Magnaporthe grisea) exceed 80%, and it attacks all stages of crop development.
“The ICRISAT-HOPE project is working towards developing improved finger millet varieties that are high yielding and resistant to blast disease. In addition, farmers have been trained in crop management, including the use of fertilizer microdosing and row planting which help increase crop yield and reduce the labor required to manage the crop,” adds Dr. Ojulong.
Farmers in the project target areas of Eastern Africa are very happy with the improved finger millet varieties which on farm give up to 30% yield advantage over the local varieties. Farmers are also adopting row planting, as opposed to the traditional broadcasting method, as it simplifies weeding and harvesting.
Finger millet is increasingly gaining popularity and the project is linking farmers to processing companies such as Unga Limited in Kenya, Maganjo Grain Millers Limited in Uganda and Nyiri Farm in Tanzania, who process and pack finger millet flour in its pure form or as a composite.
According to Dr. Ojulong, food prices are going to increase as a result of population growth and climate change, as the latter is likely to impact negatively on food production. He is however optimistic that finger millet is going to be grown in more areas. “It has been predicted that climate change will result in some areas of Eastern Africa getting wetter but rainfall duration will be shorter. I therefore visualize a situation where finger millet production will go up due to area expansion and increased demand,” he adds optimistically.
Pictures by ICRISAT-HOPE/Christine Wangari