Niger recently celebrated the second annual International Millet Festival (FESTIMIL), aimed at enhancing the production, processing and consumption of millets, so as to create wellbeing and better dietary diversity. The festival is led by the First Lady, Dr Lalla Malika Issofou, a Smart Food  Ambassador, and offered a framework for discussions around strengthening value chains of millets in Niger. Smart Food Master Classes were also organized for the Presidency and hotel chefs as well as students.

FESTIMIL 2020 consisted of meetings, demonstrations, culinary workshops, contests and panel discussions led by eminent researchers and millet value chain professionals from Niger and other Sahelian countries. Inaugurating the event, HE Mr Albadé Abouba, Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, said, “FESTIMIL aims to promote healthy and balanced nutrition for families, especially in rural areas, in order to better fight against malnutrition. It is about promoting rainfed and irrigated production of millets, various processed millet-based products, and the nutritional values of millet. Let us consume what our farmers are producing; let us consume Nigerien products.”

FESTIMIL has been adopted and institutionalized by the government of Niger, as an extension of its ‘Nigeriens Nourish Nigeriens’ 3N campaign to promote local products. Dr Issoufou, who is also President of the Tattali Iyali (‘Family wellbeing’ in the local language) Foundation, said, “FESTIMIL has helped us discover that consumption of millets that are rich in iron and zinc can contribute a lot towards improving the nutritional state of target populations and help them fulfill their physical and cognitive potential. Through FESTIMIL, many Nigeriens have understood that millet is a Smart Food. It is tolerant to the harsh climatic conditions of our Sahelian countries and it benefits both producers and consumers as it is a very nourishing food that is good for health.”

Panelists discussing millet processing and market opportunities. Photo: ICIRSAT

Panelists discussing millet processing and market opportunities. Photo: ICIRSAT

The first panel discussion saw millet breeders and other researchers sharing their insights on the evolution and adaptation of millets in the Sahel.

  • “In Niger, millet represents 65% of the cultivated areas and contributes to 75% of the country’s cereal production. Our annual production ranges between 3 million and 4 million tons per year.”  Dr Ahmadou Issaka, Pearl millet breeder, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique du Niger (INRAN), Niger.
  • “In 1979, we actively started the millet improvement program to create a genebank of local populations as a reliable source of variability. We had the vision to create and maintain gene pools of the main ecotypes representing different regions of Niger and the Lake Chad basin.” Dr Naino Jika, Retired Pearl millet Breeder, INRAN.
  • “Our genetic studies confirm that the domestication of millet dates back to 4,900 years ago. We can use the diversity of millets to improve millet production.” Dr Djido Ardo Kane, Genetician, Senegalese Institute of Agricultural Research (ISRA), Senegal.

The second panel discussion was around processing of millets and market opportunities.

  • “There has been a diversification of millet-based products with over 15 innovative products recently in the market. Moreover, the nutritional virtues of millets offer more opportunities.” – Dr Moustapha Moussa, Nutritionist, INRAN.
  • “The processing sector in Niger has improved thanks to the actions of actors, including the researchers. Previously, millet was only processed into traditional dishes and sold along the streets. Now, we have several innovative millet-based products that are well-labeled and sold in very competitive markets. If we can boost our local consumption, the economy will grow.”Mrs Aminata Limane, millet processor.
“We learned how to make millet desserts, millet- and sorghum-based pizza, as well as millet pastry cream,” said Mrs Abdoulaye Rekiatou, student, IMAT. Photo: ICRISAT

“We learned how to make millet desserts, millet- and sorghum-based pizza, as well as millet pastry cream,” said Mrs Abdoulaye Rekiatou, student, IMAT. Photo: ICRISAT

The Smart Food initiative organized two major training courses on various ways of using millets and sorghum. A Master Class for students of the Institut international des métiers de l’aviation, du tourisme et de l’hôtellerie (IMAT) conducted on 5 March introduced about 35 hotel professionals to millet-based recipes.

Another Smart Food Master Class for about 25 chefs from the Presidency in Niger and Niamey hotels, during which they were introduced to the Smart Food concept and recipes based on millet and sorghum, was held on 7 March. “I am impatient to go back to my hotel to start using millet in the menu,” said Mr Agbakla Kodjo Anani, Chef, Noom Hotel, Niamey, Niger. “The things that I learned during this training are very simple but good and easy to practice. I especially liked the millet ice cream. A very simple way to start diversifying our diet and a modern way of cooking millet,” said Mrs Akilou Haoua, caterer.

FESTIMIL was held during 3-4 March 2020 at the Academy of Martial Arts in Niamey, Niger. This year the FESTIMIL was organized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, in partnership with the Tattali Iyali Foundation of the First Lady Dr Lalla Malika Issoufou; the Ministry of Cultural Renaissance, the Ministry of Health, the High Commission for the 3N Initiative, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique du Niger(INRAN) and ICRISAT.

We thank the CGIAR Research Program Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals for their support in this event.

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