Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Millet and sorghum - the Smart Food

Joanna Kane-Potaka – Director of External Relations and Strategic Marketing at ICRISAT, came to ACIAR today to give a presentation on ‘Smart Food’ – a winning project under the DFAT and USAID LAUNCH Food Innovations for 2017.

Smart Food fulfils three criteria:

·         It is good for people’s health
·         It is good for the planet
·         It is good for farmers 

More than 50 percent of global protein and calorie intake comes from the ‘big three’ staples: wheat, maize and rice.  The Smart Food project is looking to incorporate more crops into this mix – crops that offer better nutrition, less environmental impact and greater resilience to climate change, and opportunities for small holder farmers.

Joanna Kane-Potaka ICRISAT and Mellissa Wood ACIAR
Pearl Millet, Finger Millet and Sorghum and examples of traditional crops fulfil the ‘Smart Food’ criteria. They offer potentially rich sources of the major micronutrients amongst the ‘hidden hunger’ burden, including zinc, iron and folic acid. Finger millet has three times the calcium content of milk.  Further clinical research is required to determine the actual bioavailability of these micronutrients, but they present huge promise. These alternatives also have a low Glycemic Index (GI) – therefore offering a solution to the growing and serious burden of diabetes affecting developing and developed countries alike.

The project is looking at how to tap into existing health extension efforts through community health workers and volunteers to increase the dissemination of information about the nutritional benefits of these foods. Health worker extension is often limited to monitoring for malnutrition, water sanitation and hygiene advice, or advice about HIV. Integrating more nutritional health promotion into these outreach services can work to increase the demand and interest in growing these crops.

Joanna Kane-Potaka presented the Smart Food project to ACIAR
In terms of being good for the planet, and offering resilience to climate change – millet and sorghum crops are more drought resistant, and have a lower carbon footprint than crops such as maize. Through revitalizing the cultivation of these traditional crops, that are suited to the agro-ecological conditions – this presents an opportunity to use less agricultural inputs such as water and fertilizer, and for rainfall dependent farmers to have more drought and heat resistant crops – an important trait as climate changes. With more investment in research and development there is a potential for yields of sorghum and millet to increase three times. The traditional three are reaching their yield plateau.

In terms of being good for farmers – the value chains of these crops remain undeveloped. This project is starting at the consumer demand end. Crops like maize, rice and wheat have well established value chains set up for farmers. They know where to get seeds, they know someone will come and buy the product, they know there is a market. This is less developed for these other crops.

The project is looking to develop these value chains to create a steady supply and demand. Food trends in urban settings in Africa and India are moving towards ‘super foods’; gluten free foods, and foods with a low GI – these crops offer that. Markets for health food in the west also present huge export potential, if the demand for them can grow in the west.  

Smart Food would like to see more millet and sorghum products available
They are looking at accreditation labelling of “Smart Foods”. If they can combine accreditation systems that show things that are good for the planet (like the existing sustainable fisheries or forestry stickers); good for your health (The Heart Foundation stickers) and good for farmers (the Fair Trade logo) – then that could see great results.

Watch out for new products in your local shops as Joanna Kane-Potaka and ICRISAT work to drive consumer demand for millet and sorghum - the Smart Foods that are healthy for us, and don’t harm the environment.

By Annie Sanderson

ACIAR mango projects

Say it with flowers?  In Asia, they say it with mangoes.  A basketful is a token of friendship in India, home of the mango, while this juicy fruit is a symbol throughout the region of love, good fortune, and generosity.
Green mangoes can be ripened in baskets with newspaper

Everybody loves a mango, and now we can celebrate – it’s Mango Day on 22 July.
ACIAR projects in Asia and the Pacific have built close ties with our neighbours and brought prosperity to their smallholder farmers, as we help them grow and sell this fruit.
Mangoes aren’t just delicious, they’re healthy, too.  It’s hardly surprising that they should be the national fruit of India, Pakistan and the Philippines, and Bangladesh’s national tree.
Mangoes are one of Pakistan’s most important fruit crops, and the country produces 4% of the world’s harvest each year.  Our project there is helping smallholder Pakistani farmers earn more money from growing mangoes, as well as from producing citrus fruit, dairy and livestock.

Covered mangoes in Myanmar
Another project in Pakistan, Indonesia and Vietnam, will give thousands of smallholder mango farmers better access to regional and local markets, increasing their incomes and livelihoods.
The Royal Government of Cambodia intends to grow and export more mangoes, the country’s second most important fruit crop.  Our project will help to build a resilient mango industry in Cambodia and in Australia through improved production and supply chain practices.

Espaliered mango trees in Australia - for easy maintenance and picking
According to a Filipino legend, a good fairy buried the heart of a poor but generous man on top of a hill; in that place grew a heart-shaped fruit: the mango.  Smallholder farmers are some of the poorest people in the Philippines; their incomes depend on growing fruit and vegetables, but production yields and fruit quality are declining because of pests, diseases, poorly nourished trees, and the high costs of inputs.   
Dr Paula Ibell with a tagged mango tree in the Philippines - tags allow measurement and data on pruning and tree maintenance
Our projects are enhancing incomes and livelihoods for smallholders and their communities.  We are improving value chains for fruit and vegetables, including mango; developing integrated agriculture methods so farmers can earn long-term benefits from growing mango; and improving management so fewer mangoes are lost after harvesting.

All this research work should result in healthier mango trees, better mango transport methods and improved livelihoods for small scale farmers. And more mangos for us all to eat!
by Nick Fuller

Read more about our mango projects: