At a special event at the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Regional Office for Africa, millets took centre stage and were celebrated for their potential in addressing climate change, boosting nutrition and increasing farmers’ incomes. The ‘Dine on a Mat’ event saw ambassadors, high-commissioners, government ministers, UN and development partners and other high-level guests take part in a dinner of fonio and other millets prepared by chef Fatmata Binta for the International Year of Millets 2023.
Chef Binta is an advocate for fonio – an ancient African super grain – and for supporting women fonio producers. She won the Basque Culinary World Prize in 2022 for her Dine on a Mat concept which brings together her Fulani cultural heritage and her culinary training.
“Millets have a lot of potential for agricultural transformation. If we can increase productivity, and add value along the supply chain through processing it will benefit those who are producing, especially a lot of women,” said FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa Abebe Haile-Gabriel at the event.
“Fonio is very easy to grow, you don’t need to plough the land too much, you can harvest within 8 to 12 weeks and it has so many benefits, so it is something we need to add to our diets,” said Chef Binta, who is collaborating with FAO throughout the International Year of Millets. “Right now we are talking a lot about sourcing loca, connecting with farmers, and I think it’s important now to start using ingredients that are underutilized – that’s the way forward,” she said.
The Ambassador of India to Ghana H.E. Sugandh Rajaram, whose country first proposed the international year to the United Nations, attended the event. Other guests included representatives from the Governments of Ghana, Australia, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Italy, Japan, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Korea, Spain, Togo, the United Kingdom, the European Union, the United States of America’s USAID, the African Development Bank, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), the Pan-African Agribusiness Apex Chamber (PAAC), the UN Resident Coordinator and the World Food Programme.
Fonio – a star from Africa
Fonio was the star ingredient at the Dine on a Mat event, including in a salad served with nuts and herbs.
“I encourage everyone to use more millets, look for recipes online, and explore what you can do with these ancient super grains,” said Chef Binta.
Millets were among the first plants to be domesticated and have been an important food for hundreds of millions of people in Africa and Asia. They include sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet, amaranth, fonio and teff.
These small grains are packed with minerals including iron, fibre, antioxidants and protein, have a low glycaemic index and are gluten-free. Despite their history and nutritional value, they account for less than 3 percent of the global grains trade.
Millets – a climate solution
Millets are climate-resilient crops because they can grow on arid lands with minimal inputs and maintenance, are tolerant or resistant to diseases and pests, and are more resilient to climate shocks than other cereals.
The residues from millet harvests are used as livestock feed and are an important adjunct to feed security, especially during harsh seasons such as drought.
Greater consumption of millets can offer opportunities to smallholder farmers through sustainable increased production. By promoting millets and regaining market opportunities, additional sources of revenue can be created for smallholders and in the food sector, boosting economic growth.
Governments and policy makers can prioritize the production and trade of millets, take legislative actions to promote their cultivation and innovative methods for harvest and post-harvest processes. Millets can also be put on the menu at public schools and hospitals.
The private sector can invest in the sustainable production of millets by facilitating access to credit or other financial support, millet-specific training, farming equipment and new technologies that improve the processing of millets. The food industry can increase production and promotion of millets-based products.
Everyone can promote and enjoy millets in their daily lives. As part of her collaboration with FAO, Chef Binta has launched a global Instagram Chefs Challenge that encourages chefs and any other passionate cooks to share a millet recipe using the hashtag #IYM2023.