Food and nutrition insecurity in Kenya has deteriorated with the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance rising from 2.1 million in August 2021 to 2.8 million.

The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) says the situation is as a result of the below-average October to December short rains. Some 29 counties in Arid and Semi-Arid land (Asal) regions need urgent food aid.

With the looming problem of famine and malnutrition, a number of organisations have rallied together to salvage the situation.

International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), that conducts agricultural research, has advised farmers to focus on growing legumes which do well in the dry lands.

According to ICRISAT, some of the legumes that can thrive in asals are beans, chickpeas, cowpea, sorghum, millet, green grams among others are crops that do well in dry regions.

Lina Judy a millet farmer in Kitui county shares insights on how to grow millet as a source of food. 

Land preparation 

 “Plough the land early during the dry spell. Plough deeply to expose pests such as millet head miner to adverse weather and predators. Remove all weeds especially the perennials, stumps and other obstacles,” says Judy. 

Edna Machuki on her finger millet farm at Kiobegi in Kisii County [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Planting 

Planting should be done before or during the onset of rains to ensure that the crop uses the available moisture to the maximum during the growing period.  

“Plant your seeds at a depth of 2.5cm to 4cm when soil is moist and 5cm when soil is dry,” says Judy.

Spacing

Spacing depends on millet variety. For instance, 60cm by 15cm for pearl and finger millet. Seed rate will also depend on the millet variety planted. You can do 3kg per hectare for finger millet and 5kg per hectare for pearl.

Thinning 

“This should be done two weeks after crop emergence, when the crop attains 15cm in height,” says Judy.

 Weed management 

Keep the field weed free during the growing period. According to Judy weeding should be done twice. First weeding is done two to three weeks after crop emergence and second weeding few weeks later,” she says.

Fertiliser application 

 As a rule of thumb always do a soil test first to see the nutrients that are missing. According to Judy apply 125kg NPK per hectare during planting, top dress with 125kg CAN per hectare if soil is poor in terms of fertility. 

 Pest management 

Look out for spotted stem borer and African army worm, a migratory moth. To keep the pests away, practice good field hygiene, use insecticide such as thuricides, use neem or pyrethrum extracts when the caterpillars are small. 

 Disease management 

Many diseases can be controlled by planting resistant varieties. 

“Do crop rotation with non-cereals, practice good field hygiene,” says Judy.

 Harvesting 

 Harvesting is done two to three months depending on variety. Thresh the grains and dry them well to a moisture content of around 12 per cent. Well dried and dressed grains can be stored for at least five years after harvest.

 Benefits of Millet

  1. Manages obesity

A study from 2021 investigated the effectiveness of millet consumption in managing obesity and high cholesterol. The results demonstrated that this type of diet reduced Body mass index (BMI)  and therefore can help reduce the degree of overweight and obesity.

  1. Helps the digestive system

According to medicalnewstoday.com millet contains fibre, which contributes to digestive health and helps to regulate bowel movements. 
Millet also has prebiotics, which stimulate the growth of probiotics within the microbiome. This is important for gut health and the immune system in general.

People with celiac disease (chronic digestive and immune disorder that damages the small intestine) can eat this grain, which is nutrient-rich and high in protein and fibre, without risk of discomfort.

  1. Supporting the cardiovascular system

Millet contains magnesium, which helps to regulate heart rhythm. Millet also contains vitamin B3 niacin. This vitamin helps reduce certain factors of heart disease such as high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, according to medicalnewstoday.com.

  1. Reduces the risk of diabetes

Millet has been shown to help manage blood glucose levels in people with diabetes. 

Cost in markets

The price of millet is Sh50 to Sh51 per kilogram depending on the location of market.