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27 December 2023

Recognizing the value of millet and millet-based products in Kenya

Tiny but Mighty pops from IPOP

Dorah Momanyi, is the founder of the Nutritious Agriculture Network in Kenya. In her work, she re-establishes the use of indigenous grains, such as sorghum, amaranth and millet, by making plant-based snacks.




What is millets’ cultural and social significance in traditional diets and culinary practices in Kenya?

Millets are still considered food for people experiencing poverty. Millennials and Generation Z actually cannot even identify the type of millet in Kenya. They shy away and scorn millet as food for our ancestors.

In the Kisii and Luo community, millet is a significant crop used in traditional ceremonies that lead up to weddings.

How do you see the conversation around food sovereignty in Kenya? What do you think are the implications of losing local seed varieties for food security in the future?

The climate change conversation in Kenya mainly revolves around planting trees. Little effort has been put into conserving indigenous food systems. Just recently, a few organizations collaborated to start the process of developing an indigenous food systems policy.

Some research institutes, including the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), are focusing on traditional indigenous grains and African leafy vegetables.  The momentum geared towards funding startups in the indigenous food space is just beginning to take its footing.

How can we encourage youth to reconnect to their food and be invested in where it is coming from?

We need to educate young people on the benefits of traditional foods, including their nutritional and economic value. We should also monetize these benefits. Moreover, I think that we should provide young tech-savvy individuals with the necessary tools to transform traditional foods into exciting new ones.

What are the challenges and constraints faced in the production, marketing, and consumption of millets in your region?

It is important to note that despite the availability of many cereal options, people still tend to choose alternative cereals. In Kenya, for example, maize is the staple food, and it is challenging to change the consumption patterns of a population.

Moreover, millet planting, harvesting, threshing, and storage are all done manually, which makes it a tedious process. Due to the lack of adequate markets and low returns, many large-scale farmers avoid cultivating it.

The consumption of common millet-based products, such as porridge and ugali, is low as they are not attractive to eat. Additionally, they are typically only consumed as a main meal and porridge is only eaten occasionally.

Express the importance of raising awareness about millets’ nutritional and cultural value among policymakers, consumers, and the food industry.

Policy makers must support and legitimise strategies to fully commercialise millets and millet products. They can also contribute to re-channeling resources to prioritise subsidies for millet farmers, rather than just maize farmers, which is currently the situation in Kenya.

The food industry often prioritises profits, but can consider using locally-sourced raw materials to create alternative foods that are both appealing to consumers and offer health benefits.

Is the Kenyan government or regional/local authorities fostering the growth of millet-based value chains? And what steps can they take to encourage the use of millet and millet-based products?

During the International Year of Millet, the Ministry of Agriculture developed and showcased millet-based food products.

The National Flour Blending Policy requires millers to add alternative grains to maize flour, increasing the use of millet.

Is entrepreneurship an area that is increasingly attracting young people, especially women to Kenya?

Yes. Many young women are taking advantage of the entrepreneurship programmes targeting women at their disposal.

What are the challenges and opportunities to engage youth in responsible agricultural investment?

The youth need more working capital to invest in the capital intensive agricultural investments and technologies.

What is necessary to create and enable the environment for responsible investment in agriculture and food systems?

There is a need for policies and funding that are friendly towards youth and aimed at investing in agriculture and food systems.


This interview is part of SIANI’s ‘Tune in to Food Systems’ interview series composed of monthly interview articles with experts across fields dedicated to sustainable food systems.