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Celebrity Chefs Enlisted to Put Climate-Hardy Millets Back on the Menu

Chef Fatmata Binta. The United Nations has declared 2023 the International Year of Millets to promote their cultivation. Credit: ©FAO/Chef Binta

Chef Fatmata Binta. The United Nations has declared 2023 the International Year of Millets to promote their cultivation. Credit: ©FAO/Chef Binta

ROME, Jun 30 2023 (IPS) - Get yourself a nice big pot full of water, dice some onions and throw in the meat of your fancy, followed by chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, dried okra powder, garden eggs and chilli peppers.

Leave the pot to boil and, when simmering, add some fish and locust-bean-and-chilli mix, grind in some fresh okra and give it another stir.

Toast some fonio in a saucepan until it’s warm, add some water, put on a lid and cook on a low heat for 20 minutes.

Leave the fonio to rest so it comes out nice and fluffy and serve with your stew.

Delicious and easy-peasy!

This recipe for soupu kanja with fonio was recently presented by celebrity chef Fatmata Binta to launch the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Global Chefs Challenge.

Millets can grow on arid lands with minimal inputs, they are resistant to drought and tolerant to crop diseases and pests, making them resilient to changes in climate. Their ability to grow in poor, degraded soils can also provide land cover in arid areas, reducing soil degradation and supporting biodiversity

The aim of the online challenge is to show the multitude of ways fonio and the other cereals belonging to the millet family can be used in order to encourage people to put them back on the menu.

Millets, a diverse group of small-grained, dryland cereals, are an excellent source of fibre, antioxidants, proteins and minerals, including iron.

They are diverse in taste and gluten free, meaning they are safe for sufferers of celiac disease, and the residues from their harvests can be used as livestock feed.

Despite these virtues, demand for millets has declined in recent decades, with a knock-on effect for production, as other cereals have become widespread and dietary preferences have shifted.

Millets, which were among the first plants to be domesticated, currently account for less than 3% of the global grains trade.

The FAO is trying to reverse this trend as it sees millets as an ideal way for countries to increase food self-sufficiency and reduce reliance on imported cereal grains.

Millets can grow on arid lands with minimal inputs, they are resistant to drought and tolerant to crop diseases and pests, making them resilient to changes in climate.

Their ability to grow in poor, degraded soils can also provide land cover in arid areas, reducing soil degradation and supporting biodiversity.

So as agrifood systems face big challenges to feed an ever-growing global population, these cereals provide an affordable and nutritious option and a potentially precious resource to help small-scale farmers to adapt to the climate emergency.

The United Nations has declared 2023 the International Year of Millets to promote their cultivation.

Naturally, people do not base their eating habits solely in the recommendations of agronomists or UN agencies.

So the FAO has enlisted Binta and other celebrity chefs to help people appreciate what these hardly cereals have to offer.

“Fonio is not only nutritious and delicious, it can grow in tough climates and could help to end world hunger” said Binta.

“So enjoy my fonio recipe and I challenge you to share your millet recipe!”

A native of Sierra Leone, in 2022 Binta became the first African to win the Basque Culinary World Prize for chefs who improve society through gastronomy.

Now based in Accra, Ghana, she received the prize for her ‘Dine on a Mat’ pop-up restaurant initiative showcasing the culinary traditions of the Fulani people of West Africa.

“If you’ve been following my work, you’ll know that I’m very passionate about African gastronomy, highlighting underutilized ingredients, and most importantly, taking inspiration from women in rural areas,” said Binta, whose Fulani Kitchen Foundation helps women farmers grow fonio as a crop.

“I collaborated on a recipe with some beautiful women from a town called Kolda, in Senegal.

“I encourage you all to try millets, to try fonio, add it to your diet, and let’s keep this challenge going”.

Anyone can join the chefs in taking part in the challenge.

All you have to do is make a video of yourself preparing a millet dish, explaining the recipe, the type of millet being used and the nutritional benefits.

Then put the video on social media using @FAO and the hashtags #IYM2023 and #YearofMillets in the post.

The potential of millets to save livelihoods and lives is demonstrated by story of Pudi Soren, a 27-year-old woman from the eastern Indian state of Bihar.

Pudi recently started growing finger millet after initially receiving seeds from a project administered by the FAO’s International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources and implemented by an NGO called Public Advocacy Initiatives for Rights and Values in India.

This has proved vital as it is a crop that she can plant near her home when rain from monsoon season is insufficient.

“We have forgotten about some crops,” said Soren.

“When we were children, we saw crops such as finger millets too, but people stopped their cultivation for many years.

“My husband and I have a small piece of land, but we did not grow much previously, because we lacked the necessary resources.

“Three years ago, the project gave us seeds and encouraged us to do farming. Now I am proud to be a farmer.

“We can grow finger millet in the rice fallow season and summer, and they do not need fertilizers; some cow dung is sufficient.

“It is a good source of protein in our meals, and my children like the biscuits that I make with the flour.

“In the past, we bought oil, wheat and pulses from the market and spent 500 to 600 rupees every month.

“Our expenses have been halved since we started cultivating these crops. I use the money for the education of my children.

“There are problems that we face as smallholder farmers.

“Rainfall is reducing. And when there is little rainfall, like this year, irrigation becomes expensive. Thankfully, finger millets can be grown with less water.

“What I grow sustains my family, but in the future, I want to sell my surplus on the market”.

 
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