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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains
environments and conditions. Moreover, its seeds can be stored for years without insect damage, which makes them lifesavers for famine-prone areas.
Given all these qualities, it is perhaps hard to understand why finger millet is being rejected. But the reason is simple. People are giving it up in favor of maize, sorghum, and especially cassava because producing finger millet takes a lot of work.2
The truth is that finger millet, as produced at present, demands a dedication to drudgery that, given a choice, few people are willing to invest. Part of the terrible toil is in weeding the fields, part in handling the harvest, and part in processing the grain.
Even though finger millet is declining in the heartland where 30 years ago it was the major crop of the land, all is not lost. Indeed, if immediate attention is given, the impediments causing the decline will probably be eliminated. In fact, there are already signs that the slide may be bottoming out. Prices paid for finger millet have risen dramatically in some places, and the crop is enjoying something of a resurgence—and a highly profitable one at that. In Kenya, for instance, the grain currently sells at more than twice the price of sorghum and maize.3 In Zimbabwe, too, the government offers an attractive producer price, which has tended to slow the decline. And Uganda's most recent statistics indicate that finger millet still occupies 50 percent of its cereal area.
If this crop is given proper attention, it has the following possibilities within Africa.
Excellent prospects. Certain varieties are adapted to heat, humidity, and tropical conditions. (Finger millet was once the principal staple for people in southern Sudan and northern Uganda, for instance.) Given research, recognition, and sympathetic policies, production could expand dramatically.
At least one reviewer speculates that abandoning this nutritious grain millet for the less nutritious ones is "likely one of the causes of increasing famine in many areas."
What is more, the government-controlled price (630 shillings per quintal, or $0.29 per kilo in 1991) is only half the open-market price (1,200-1,400 shillings per quintal, or $0.60 per kilo).