Back to Home Page of CD3WD Project or Back to list of CD3WD Publications


Contents - Next

GASGA - the Group for Assistance on Systems relating to Grain After-harvest - is a voluntary association of organizations primarily linked with donor operations.

These organizations all have major involvement in most, if not all, off the following:

The association is essentially technical; it is international in character, but informal and limited in membership, so that its deliberations, aimed at the specific objectives indicated below, can take place readily.

GASGA consists of the following organizations:

GASGA aims to stimulate improvement in the technical help given to developing countries in the postharvest handling, processing, storage and transport of grain, and to harmonise activities so that the most effective use is made of members" resources. GASGA seeks to identify and suggest ways of meeting needs for research, development, training and information in this subject field, in the light of existing or planned operations by GASGA members and other organizations.

The Group is also prepared to answer requests for technical advice put to it by developing countries.

GASGA also seeks to facilitate the appropriate dissemination of information about technical developments and activities in the postharvest sector to donors, developing countries, and other interested organizations. The last group includes, for instance, the International Agricultural Research Centres whose commodity-oriented preharvest programs need links with postharvest activities and requirements.

The GASGA Executive meets annually to review progress in its activities and discuss proposals for future work.

Since the 19th Executive Meeting, held at Feldafing, West Germany, a technical seminar has been held in association with the annual meetings and the papers presented at the seminar published in the GASGA Executive Seminar Series.

The Role of Small Grains in Food Security in Marainal Rainfall Areas of Zimbabwe

S.C. Muchena Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement Zimbabwe

Agriculture in Zimbabwe falls into two major sectors, the commercial, comprising 4800 large scale farmers who, (including some smaller scale commercial farmers) occupy 39 % of the available agricultural land. In addition their labour and dependents (a total of 1,7 million people) live here. The remaining agricultural land is occupied by approximately 800000 communal farmers and the bulk of the rural population, of approximately four million.

Land in Zimbabwe falls into one of five agroecological zones, originally delineated by Vincent and Thomas in 1961, designated Natural Regions I to V in descending order. A major criterion for the differentiation between natural regions is the amount and distribution of the rainfall through the unimodal rains. Region III receives between 650 and 800 mm of rainfall a year, but temperatures are high and fairly severe mid season droughts are common.

You will see, from the following table that the majority of communal land falls into Regions III, IV and V which, bearing in mind the above comments on these agroecological zones and the proportion of the population who win their living from the soil in communal areas, indicates the importance of agricultural production systems which are relatively drought tolerant, to the property of Zimbabwe.


Distribution of Agricultural Land by Natural Region Percentages

Proportion of Land

Natural Region Commercial
Farming %
Area %
I 3 1
II 27 8
III 22 17
IV 26 45
V 22 29
Equals 39 % of
Agricultural Land.
Equals 61 % of
Agricultural Land.

ICRISAT has characterised land which receives less than 600 mm of rainfall, unevenly distributed, as semiarid. Ninety one percent of communal areas in Zimbabwe fall into this category and enjoy the associated depression in their crop yields.

Such effects are especially felt if they impinge on flowering of crops, particularly maize, where non synchronous pollen shed will cause total crop failure.

In recent times there has been a trend in Zimbabwe, and indeed in most SADCC Member States, away from the traditional intercropping and rotating of up to six or ten crops (including drought tolerant cereals) towards hybrid maize production. This reduction of crop diversity has had a pronounced effect on the farmers ability to survive adverse conditions by increasing the risk of total crop loss. The availability of improved hybrid maize varieties and the chance of exellent yields in good circumstances has lead to maize encroaching into areas traditionally producing sorghum and millet. Table 2 below exemplifies the last ten years of a much greater trend by looking at cropping patterns in Chibi communal area from 1974 to 1985.

Crop 1974/75 1984/85
  Area Ave.ha Total ha(%) Farmers Growing(%) Area Ave.ha Total ha (%) Farmers Growing (%)
Maize 1.15 42.3 93 1.27 59.3 100
Groundnuts 0.46 17.1 74 0.28 12.9 69
Sorghum 0.31 11.3 43 0.09 4.2 30
B R Millet 0.30 11.3 37 0.07 3.4 15
F Millet 0.29 10.6 61 0.25 11.6 70
Roundnuts (Bambara) 0.12 4.4 46 0.14 6.4 78
Other 0.05 3.1 36 0.05 2.3 36
Total 2.68 100.1   2.15 100.1  

A major effect of the trend towards maize planting in communal areas has been to reduce household food security. Bearing in mind the fact that the majority of communal areas are in Natural Regions III, IV and V with their lower and less well distributed rainfall, farmers obtain good yields in good years but nothing in poor years. Meanwhile those farmers continuing to plant small grains would receive less yield in good years, while they get something in poor years. Their food security is greater.

In support of farmers' preference for taking the greater risk of planting hybrid maize there are the following factors;

  1. it is substantially less susceptible to bird damage
  2. it is relativley more palatable and digestible
  3. it is more versatile in terms of utilization
  4. it has enjoyed well developed pre and post production infrastructure.

On the other hand the small grains are relativley poor yielding. They had not received much attention in terms of genetic improvement. In fact, I initiated the first ever pearl millet improvement programme in Zimbabwe in 1977, and the materials introduced and selected are only just beginning to trickle into the farmers fields in Zimbabwe.

In addition, small grains are often severely subject to bird damage, (losses of up to 50 % are not uncommon), and require more preconsumption processing than maize. The majority have a fibrous and highly coloured pericarp which causes off colours and tastes if they are included in flour. Perversely, those varieties with the greatest problems of this nature are also least prone to bird damage. Birds don't like off tastes either. Processing small grains to remove the hull by traditional pestle and mortar methods involves between two and five hours labour per 20 kgs, depending on variety and other factors.

If we look at the rainfall pattern in Zimbabwe since 1980 you will see that there are farmers who have only one good year this decade. Considering my earlier comments on the population distribution and agroecological zoning in Zimbabwe the message for the improvement and dissemination of small grain production is loud and clear.

1980/81 Very good rainfall
1981/82 drought
1982/83 drought
1983/84 drought
1984/85 fair
1985/86 fair
1986 drought

Government policy recognises the significance of food security such that Zimbabwe brought sorghum and millet into the formal marketing system for the first time in 1985. This meant that, for the first time, there was a guaranteed market price for these grains and the mechanism for selling them to the Grain Marketing Boards was available for these commodities. In consequence the Ministry of land, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement is now faced with small grain stocks of 190 000 tonnes costing Z$ 5 million per annum to hold.

While the existence of the stockpile of small grains and the much greater stocks of maize testify to the self sufficiency of Zimbabwe in cereal production, there are still geographical areas where people do not produce enough, or earn enough to have access to adequate food. Thus, while the country was in surplus to a considerable extent it was necessary for Government to provide drought relief feeding for 500000 people in Region IV and V areas last year. While national food self sufficiency has been attained household food security, (the availability of and access to adequate food), remains a major concern. It could be argued that a fair proportion of the expenditure incurred for the drought relief exercise, which has been undertaken to a greater or lesser extent almost every year for several years, could be saved were people in those drought prone areas able to improve their food security. The planting of crops more likely to produce reasonable yields, such as sorghum and millet is one thrust which could help.

Since Independence government has taken several initiatives to improve household food security amongst peasant Farmers. The Department of Research and Specialist Services, in conjunction with ICRISAT in their SADCC regional programme, has enhanced its research into producing drought tolerant, disease resistant and higher yielding sorghum and millet varieties. This work has been rewarded by the release of several superior varieties of both sorghum and millet.

To address the laborious traditional processing requirement of small grains Government has begun a collaborative project with the Canadian International Development Agency through a non government organization, ENDA Zimbabwe, to introduce the dry abrasive dehulling technology by RIIC with IDRC assistance in Botswana, which you will hear described in a subsequent paper by Ozzie Schmidt.

Our project will build upon the experience and information gained by introducing four test dehullers, and will see a further forty machines installed in suitable areas, the aim being to establish a self sustaining small grain milling industry. The intention is to thereby, enhance utilization of small grains, and to improve both national and household food security.

Considerable valuable work has been undertaken in recent years on in-field water harvesting techniques aimed at making better use of what precipitation is available, while not adding unduly to the tillage costs involved.

While I have described, briefly, the work, and outcomes of the work which has been undertaken with small grains in Zimbabwe, it is my belief that there is considerable additional work needed in the home economics area to bring small grains, and small grain products, to greater prominence in the daily diet of Zimbabweans.

We have done some work with blended flours but there is considerably more scope for additional product development which will increase the market for small grains. If the market for small grains can be widened then greater incentives can be offered to farmers in the areas most suited to production of small grains to redouble their efforts. If we can achieve this objective we will, at once, be improving the food security of people in marginal rainfall areas and broadening the spectrum of foods which Zimbabweans eat and enjoy through bringing otherwise marginal land into more productive use. As the Nigerians say, 'one should laugh with the teeth he has, even if they are few'.

Zimbabwe: Altitude and annual rainfall

Zimbabwe: Land tenure and natural regions

Zimbabwe: Natural regions

Contents - Next