Friday, July 10, 2009

Sorghum Superhero and the divide between African mainland and island states

The 2009 World Food Prize, worth USD 250,000 has been awarded to Dr. Gebisa Ejeta an Ethiopian who is professor of agronomy at Purdue University in the US. (http://www.worldfoodprize.org/press_room/2009/june/ejeta.htm) Ironically, the prize flags up the divide between mainland Africa and at least one of its island states.

Known as the Sorghum Superhero, Ejeta has been honored for developing Africa's first hybrid and high-yielding sorghum varieties tolerant to drought and the devastating Striga seed. This in turn accelerated crop productivity and gave rise to the first commercial sorghum seed industry in Sudan. By 1999, one million acres of the hybrid had been harvested in Sudan, says the Science and Development Network (http://www.scidev.net/en/sub-suharan-africa/features/ethiopia-s-sorghum-superhero.html)

But Ejeta’s work is seemingly irrelevant to us here in Seychelles. Sorghum is so little know in this African island nation that it has no local name. I have tried in vain to quiz experienced agronomists and farmers in Seychelles for a Creol name for Sorgum. Whilst sorghum is one of the most essential grain crops in Africa (made into breads, porridges, and beverages), its importance in Seychelles has been supplemented by rice and wheat and others such as maize.

Yet, sorghum grows well in Seychelles. At the award winning Heritage Gardens at Roche Caiman, Nature Seychelles has grown three harvests of sorghum with little effort. But because this grain is not utilized by the local population, the birds have befitted from nutritious feed.

My father, coming from an Indian tradition, gave me the seeds to plant at the Heritage Garden. He himself had grown the plant many years before on a property by the sea so he knew that it would do well here. He even tried to mill the seeds and make bread out of it.

Rice and wheat are not grown in Seychelles but are imported. On the other hand Sorghum grows very well. So why is it we are not growing this important food plant? Is it simply out of tradition and “what came first”? Whatever the case, should we not be eating foods that we can grow locally instead of relying on imports to satisfy some of our basic nutritional needs?

After last year's global food crisis, national food security strategies in many countries have taken on board a very important element of self suficency, abandoned by so called modern economies some time ago in favour of focusing on competitive advantages. We should start doing the same right here in Seychelles.

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