How colonial policies eclipsed millet, sorghum

Farmers admire healthy sorghum crop at the Ngong Agricultural Harambee Showground in the 1980s. Millet and sorghum became popular and widely grown in Kenya because of their distinct qualities, including resilience and adaptability to many climatic and soil conditions, their many uses including in the making of ugali, porridge, alcoholic drinks and in the treatment of diarrhoea and during the solemnisation of births, marriages and circumcision rituals. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Women particularly played a vital role in the development and spread of these crops and development of pre-colonial agriculture generally.
  • In most communities, families erected special granaries in the care of wives for storing of harvests. Other millet granaries belonged to husbands.
  • The other factor, which led to the decline in the production of millet and sorghum, was related to Kenya’s colonial labour system.
  • This meant that Africans were left to rely on their primordial mechanisms of growing the crops, which were treated as miscellaneous cereals.

Millet and sorghum are indigenous to Africa. Millet, which grows up to about 0.5 to a metre high and possesses grains with shades of brown and cream, depending on variety, was cultivated first in Sudan, around the Niger River, Ethiopia and parts of East Africa between 2,000 and 5,000 years ago.

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