Edgar Vhera

Agriculture Specialist Writer

ALL is set for the 2023 Good Food and Seed Festival (GFSF) scheduled for September 29 and 30 in Harare where Svoboda, a local millet variety will be showcased for production in agro-ecological regions 3, 4 and 5.

The festival is jointly hosted by Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) and Bio Innovation Zimbabwe (BIZ) and will run under the theme “Celebrating the wonder of Zimbabwean millets.”

BIZ project manager Mrs Caroline Jacquet yesterday said the festival was focusing on millets and had chosen svoboda as its special millet crop.

“Svoboda is a very interesting traditional grain, which was once forgotten but revived in Masvingo province. The Bikita community coined the name ‘svoboda’ to replace its original name – barnyard millet (Echinochloa esculenta). There is a high probability this grain can be found in other parts of country under different names,” she said.

Svoboda has small white, round grains that have a nutty flavour and a slightly chewy texture. It is usually parboiled, dehulled and cooked and consumed like rice. The grain can also be roasted and ground into flour. It is also used to make traditional beer that plays a significant role in performing local religious rituals.

Mrs Jacquet said the festival was the only event in Zimbabwe that brings smallholder farmers together with consumers to interact, receive direct market feedback and learn and exchange information, all in celebration of healthy, sustainably produced local food.

“During the seed fair, farmers from around Zimbabwe exchange seeds and knowledge on these seeds. The festival has stalls selling a wide range of local produce products such as teas and cosmetics, as well as seeds of traditional grains, legumes and herbs.

“Appropriate technology and small livestock will also be sold. A food court offering diverse cuisines and dishes all made with Zimbabwean ingredients, cooking demonstrations and chefs’ battles as well as activities for kids learning about traditional foods, nutrition, climate, agriculture, traditional dance, music, stories, games and crafts as well as live music will mark the order of the day,” pointed Mrs Jacquet.

Let us change diets, increase area under traditional grain production and give hope to our smallholder farmers, were the parting words of Mrs Jacquet.

A smallholder farmer from Bikita, Mrs Mukondo recently testified that svoboda was cost-effective as one does need a lot of money to grow it.

“It is easier to harvest and grind than other millets. Birds, pests and diseases rarely attack it both in the field and in the storeroom. If you harvest the crop and there is moisture it will continue to shoot and it takes three months to ripen. One can harvest three to four times from one plant.

“I have been able to grow enough for my family and also shared seed with other farmers. It is our mandate to bring back what our elders used to grow and eat. Traditional grains perform well during drought and have many health advantages with svoboda being rich in iron,” she said.

The festival is in sync with Government’s policy that is advocating the compulsory production of traditional grain in agro-ecological regions 4 and 5 under Pfumvudza/Intwasa programme for the 2023/24 season to counteract the forecast dry spell.

To climate-proof production, Government has unveiled the input distribution and crop suitability map that compel farmers in agro-ecological 4 and 5 to establish two mandatory sorghum and/or millet plots plus one mandatory sunflower plot and two optional plots comprising any of African peas or groundnuts.





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