What diet and related agriculture changes have you seen in Africa?
Across Africa the diets are changing. Twenty years ago rice was not a very common food in Africa. It was bought and consumed on occasions because the price was high. But the price of rice coming from the East, is cheap and is comparable to some of the cereals. Because of the low price, there wass a big move towards rice consumption. Also, the countries in Africa have developed irrigation schemes and the local production is converting to rice.
When we have drought situations and famine – what do the governments bring in? The donation is typically maize. And once people’s palates have tasted maize and they realize that the government’s going to provide that year in year and out, they don’t grow sorghum and millets, which would naturally be the crops most suitable for those drought prone areas. So people who have traditionally grown sorghum and millets then change to maize.
However, some organizations like World Food Program (WFP) are now changing that. For areas that have famine or flood but are predominantly millet or sorghum consuming areas, WFP try and procure sorghum and millet for those areas so as to not drastically change people’s diets and so people do not become dependent on maize which regularly fails in those agro-ecologies.
Also maize mills were brought into villages and these mills don’t process any of the other grains. This convenience of mechanical processing further encouraged people who had traditionally grown sorghum and millets to change to maize. Processing of the traditional grains became something only your grandparents could do.
We are seeing a number of health related diseases and we think it’s because of this change in the diet. Also people are going for highly processed foods. I think the time for popularizing Smart Food like millets, sorghum and legumes in Africa is now.
Moses Siambi is the Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, for the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, which works in the dry zones and has a specialty some of the crops that survive best in the harsh environments – millets, sorghum, pigeonpea, chickpea and groundnut.