New varieties promise an increase in Tanzania’s finger millet production

New varieties promise an increase in Tanzania’s finger millet production

Farmer Athumani Ramadhani in his finger millet farm, in Singida, Tanzania

Farmer Athumani Ramadhani in his finger millet farm, in Singida, Tanzania

Finger millet is an important food crop in small scale cereal-based farming systems in Africa, particularly the upland areas of Eastern Africa (Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Kenya) where it commands a higher market price compared to other cereals. The crop is a very valuable subsistence food crop because it can be stored for a long time without risks of insect damage due to

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its small seeds. Moreover it is highly nutritious. In the region, finger millet is used to prepare several types of food such as porridge, ugali/sima which is strongly recommended for infants and the elderly because of its nutritive value.

“Finger millet is one of the most nutritious of the major cereals and nutritionists see it as the key to finally solving Africa’s

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malnutrition problem. The fact that people in finger millet growing areas can thrive on just one meal a day is attributed to the nutritive value and “filling” nature of this grain” reports Dr. Henry Ojulong, an ICRISAT scientist in charge of finger millet breeding in the region.

Finger millet’s high levels in zinc can help reduce stunting, while the high levels of calcium and iron makes it important for lactating women and children. “I use finger millet to cook porridge for my children, as it is highly nutritious” says 35 year old Elizabeth Azaria, a finger millet farmer in Iramba.

Farmer Elizabeth Azaria in her finger millet farm

Farmer Elizabeth Azaria in her finger millet farm

In recognition of the crop’s significance to food security in the Eastern Africa region, the HOPE project positioned finger millet as one of its mandate crops. The project is working towards improving finger millet varieties in the region – Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Tanzania. In collaboration with the Department of Research and Development (DRD), Tanzania, the ICRISAT HOPE project team has successfully been able to facilitate the release of two finger millet varieties – P224 and U15, in Tanzania. These two varieties have also been released in Kenya and Uganda. They are higher

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yielding, early maturing, resistant to blast

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and are more tolerant to drought compared to the traditional varieties.

P224 and U15 varieties were selected after a series of evaluations with farmer involvement. The evaluations took place in in four districts in Tanzania – Mbozi, Singida, Iramba and Kondoa districts. At least ten farmer groups were involved in each district so as to get their opinions on the performance of the varieties and allow them to select the varieties of their preference. In the end, the farmers chose the two varieties. “With the improved varieties, we harvest up to 10 bags per acre compared to the traditional varieties which we used to get only 2 bags per acre”, reports Elizabeth.

After only one season of evaluation backed with data from Uganda and Kenya, under the East African Harmonized Seed System, the Tanzania Official for Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI) conducted a National Performance Test on the two varieties and approved them to the National Variety Release Committee (NVRC) for official release. In early 2012, the Tanzania Ministry of Agriculture announced the official release of the two finger millet varieties.

With the new varieties finger millet production expected to increase. “Finger millet production in the country has been low because of the lack of improved technologies, including varieties, which meant finger millet was limited to traditional production systems. The use of local varieties which are mainly late maturing led to poor harvests. On average the yields have not been more than 0.5 metric tonnes; this is expected to rise to 0.69 metric tonnes per hectare with the adoption of the improved varieties” reports Deogratius Kisandu, an officer working with the national program – Department of Research and Development in Tanzania.

Mr. Kisandu attributes this success to the HOPE project through the collaboration between partners. “The project has played an important role in reviving finger millet research in Tanzania. Finger millet has been among the neglected crops in terms of research and extension

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Ms Azaria’s family drinking finger millet porridge outside their home

Ms Azaria’s family drinking finger millet porridge outside their home