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Organisation: International Development Research Centre, Canada (IDRC)
Author: O.G. Schmidt
Edited by AGSI/FAO: Danilo Mejia (Technical), Beverly Lewis (Language&Style), Carolin Bothe (HTML transfer)

CHAPTER IX SORGHUM AND MILLET: Post-harvest Operations

5.2 Major problems

5.3 Proposed improvements

5. Economic and Social Considerations

5.2 Major problems

The most problematical issues for smallholders are those presented by national agricultural and marketing policies, which had a systematic, depressing effect on the economy of the rural household. (Also see Mwangi et al, 1993)

West Africa

A major policy package was defined by the joint fiscal policies of the overvalued CFA, the common currency among the French-speaking countries, underwritten by France until the end of the eighties.

One result was that relatively inexpensive imported wheat displaced other products for urban populations induced to switch to bread and other wheat products. This left the rural population to fend for itself. There was no urban demand for the locally grown semi-arid cereal grains. Several countries attempted to ensure urban markets for rural surpluses of sorghum and pearl millet by unsuccessfully seeking legislation to force local bakers to use a composite wheat and pearl millet or wheat and sorghum flour.

After the French withdrew and the CFA was floated, the cost of imported wheat more than doubled. National economies are still adjusting to this change. It is anticipated that urban food industries will look carefully at the lower cost of indigenous cereals, and that urban families will increasingly buy indigenous grains in ready-to-cook forms in the local open-air markets.

Nigeria has its own interesting story to tell with regard to sorghum. When the petroleum revenues dried up, a ban was placed on the imports of all non-indigenous cereals. One major beneficiary of that policy was the soft-drinks industry, which made non-alcoholic drinks from malted sorghum. Dr. Tunde Obilana of the SMIP in Bulawayo was preparing a review of the monumental changes which took place in Nigeria for use of sorghum (SADC/SMIP, P.O Box 776, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe).

Eastern and Southern Africa

Two sets of policies constrained the smallholder farmers of sorghums and pearl millets before the spate of structural adjustment and market liberalisation programs which began in the mid eighties. These policies were initiated shortly after independence, steadfastly maintained for 20 to 25 years in spite of the socialist or capitalist political leadership.

The first policy affected to industrial organisation and trans-border trade. The state assumed that it was best qualified to regulate and manage food processing immediately after harvest until it reached the consumer. There was a tendency to favour the needs of the urban consumer, and to assume that the rural consumer was not a relevant participant in the "modern" post-harvest food chain. The second policy was to establish maize as the sole staple cereal by setting pan-territorial producer prices, fixing consumer prices, and subsidising farm inputs such as fertiliser and maize seed for planting.

The post-independence planning viewed the country as an integral unit, isolated from its neighbours. Under this scenario rural areas were suppliers of raw materials for the cities, usually the capital alone. Grain processing was therefore visualised as one single plant in the capital, with the capacity to mill the country's total needs. Intermediate size plants at, say, the provincial headquarters were, on the whole, not part of the plan. Even if the country's "grain basket" was a thousand km from the capital, the harvest was transported to the capital, and the resultant products were shipped back to the urban and rural areas. Transport costs became a substantial portion of the price consumers paid for the ready-to-cook product. While small-scale, rurally located milling systems or hammermills for maize were encouraged, such policies were not necessarily aligned with agricultural and marketing policies because small scale enterprise was the responsibility of a separate Ministry.

The effect of pan-territorial prices was that each farmer, regardless of the distance from industrial processors, was paid the same price for the grain harvest. The state absorbed or equalised the costs for transport, collection of the grain and distribution of the milled product. Equally, the cost of inputs was the same throughout the country.

The policy favouring maize, coupled with the pan-territorial producer price, meant that a farmer in distant semi-arid areas was in effect being urged to plant maize. Surplus quantities only of maize were saleable, and could bring in cash to the household, regardless of the agro-climatic zone in which the farmer lived and tilled. Further, the national cereals marketing agency, a monopoly also announced annual producer and consumer prices for the cereals and other key food crops. These policies had the effect of changing the food preferences of consumers in the semi-arid areas away from the semi-arid food grains to maize, and of altering farming skills. Whenever drought occurred, food relief to the semi-arid areas was often in the form of maize, not sorghum or millets. Subsidised fertiliser further induced the farmers in the semi-arid areas to plant maize, especially with subsidised hybrid seeds. To offer one example, Zimbabwe for many years had regulations which prohibited the movement of whole grains from grain surplus to grain deficit areas. All surpluses had to be sent to the capital city, and deficit areas were supplied with milled maize flour only, not with whole grains.

Smallholders, in the era following the structural adjustment programs and market liberalisation now face a totally new set of constraints and opportunities. They receive less money for their maize surplus than they did before while the cost of hybrid seed and of fertiliser has increased dramatically. The newly permitted intermediate free-enterprise marketing companies charge the real transport costs. These new marketing companies have to learn techniques of storage of intermediate-sized quantities of harvests, at the district and small-town level. Initially, one can predict increased post-harvest losses, until those skills and techniques are learned and applied. Farmers, in the meantime, now possess reduced levels of knowledge of farming the drought-resistant cereals, after a generation or two of being wooed towards maize.

A number of countries have permitted or even encouraged the creation of Commodity Exchanges offering new opportunities for export of surplus crops in larger quantities. As well, the converging tariff structure among all the countries in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) will enable cross border trade in grains, especially where distances to the national capital city are substantially greater than to district markets in neighbouring countries.

The opportunities for re-acquainting semi-arid area dwellers with their traditional cereals, food preparation and eating patterns are apparent, as is the introduction of value-adding technologies near the farm gate. A substantial, though minority, part of the population, the semi-arid area farmers also have the potential of demanding agricultural research services aimed at their agro-climatic niche.


India has not engaged in the price control approaches described above for Africa. As a result, there are existing market prices for sorghums and millets of different grain characteristics. The work of the APAU group was situated in a market environment which was much less distorted by state agricultural policies, and this undoubtedly contributing to their success.

5.3 Proposed improvements

The first step is the introduction of the small-scale machinery as sustainable enterprises in the rural areas. This step will put sorghum and pearl millet ready-to-cook products, on a par with maize meal. Further, much work has been done on new-product development in national cereal processing laboratories in both West Africa and in Eastern and Southern Africa (e.g., Luhila et al, 1989), at the SMIP in Bulawayo, at ICRISAT Centre, at CIRAD in Montpelier, and at the NRI in the UK.

Over the last few years, several medium-sized processors in Kenya have begun to supply grocery stores with single cereal "flours" or composite flours (mixtures of pearl millet, finger millet and sorghum) for the making of ugali (the stiff porridge), and of uji (the thin gruel, whether the household fermented eats it in the "sweet" form or the sour, fermented form). In South Africa, and several Southern African countries similar products have been available in urban open-air markets and grocery stores for years.

Sudan has long marketed pearled sorghum as a product which consumers boil, in the way that rice is prepared, with its own distinct taste and mouthfeel.

Each country and sub-region within will have unique factors which will determine the scope of what to introduce and where in the post-harvest chain (Forrest et al, 1979). A starting point is a multidisciplinary examination of the particular cereal, from on-farm production to its consumption by the end user, both urban and rural (Navarro et al, 1992, Navarro and Schmidt, 1993). An initial listing of all the stakeholders and key players in that Production to Consumption System will provide valuable insights. Figure 1 gives an example of such a stakeholder/key player diagram.

The policy climate had, before the mid-eighties been relatively less than supportive of the semi-arid food grains. Changes in agricultural and price policies have occurred since then, prompted by the Structural Adjustment Programs, and offer new opportunities for sorghum and millet. The new opportunities will be realised if a number of conditions can be fulfilled:

An enabling policy envelope is required, aimed specifically at the smallholder rural economy in the semi-arid areas; as household incomes rise, the households will be able to afford the cost of labour-saving services such as dehulling and milling of grains;

New targets have to be determined for agricultural research, and farmer-usable (and affordable) outputs from research must be achieved and delivered to those dry areas (Navarro and Schmidt, 1993; Navarro, L, et al. 1992.).

As the commercial banks increasingly assume the role of provider of agricultural credit, they will have to be acquainted with the economics of small-scale rural value-adding enterprises such as dehulling and milling of the semi-arid food grains. Case studies exist. Showing the profitability of such enterprises, but the banks had shown little interest prior to liberalization of the economies. Banks are known to be conservative, but they will need to develop new strategies for lending for the creation of off-farm agricultural processing enterprises.

With the changes in policies, new opportunities also exist for the lesser or minor millets (Riley et al., 1993).


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