Popularizing Smart Food – food that is good for you, the planet, and the farmer – starting with millets and sorghum.
Some of the biggest global issues are: poor diets (malnutrition to obesity); environmental issues (climate change, water scarcity and environmental degradation); and poverty. Crops like millets (defined broadly here to include sorghum) and grain legumes have the potential to address these concerns, though are not currently a food frequently consumed.
The problems for these crops are:
– Low R&D investment and policy support compared to major commodities have meant underdeveloped and underperforming value chains.
– The investments have mainly focused on supply, e.g., developing improved varieties and testing resilience.
– Until a large scale change is made, these crops will continue to have low awareness, seen as a poor person’s food, only a niche market for the health conscious and often a crop of last choice for farmers.
The challenge for these crops are that there have been low levels of R&D investment and policy support compared to major commodities leading to underdeveloped value chains. The investments have mainly focused on supply, e.g., developing improved varieties and testing resilience. Until a large scale change is made, especially driven from the consumer end, these crops will continue to have low awareness, seen as a poor person’s food, only a niche market for the health conscious.
There is great potential as they fit many of the global health food trends as they are a super food, ancient grain, gluten free and have a low glycemic index. For example pearl millet is extremely high in iron zinc and folic acid and one meal a day can provide the average person’s daily requirement of iron and zinc. Finger millet has 3 times the amount of calcium than the equivalent of mill.
They are also a traditional crop of many of the countries across Africa and in India and are highly resilient to hot dry climates which will be important with climate change. For example the International Monetary Fund said that one scenario is that in 30 years, 40% of the land growing corn in sub Saharan Africa will no longer be suitable for corn due to climate change. This is huge and will require climate smart crops like millets and sorghum.
STAGE OF INNOVATION: Growth/Expansion
Success will see investments in millet value chains from development agencies, governments and private sector through to farmers. Once awareness is raised to a significant level, a separate initiative is not needed to continue with this. The value of millets and the business and environmental potential should already be proven and the consumer interest already driving future investments. Organizations engaged are expected to continue to drive the value chain development.