For reduced market barriers, diversified enterprise and livelihood opportunities, and increased availability of diverse nutrient-rich foods

How is a pearl millet cultivar with a “snapping trait” reducing the labor burden on women and children in ESA?

Finger millet is a crop native to East Africa that is extensively cultivated in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, and Malawi. This millet is a staple food grain to a large population in the region where many rural livelihoods also depend on this crop for their income.  Finger millet is highly nutritious – rich in calcium (344 mg/100 g, which is 5-30 times more than in most cereals and 3-times higher than milk, making it the richest plant source), Iron, and Zinc. It has unique property of slower digestibility making it a food for long sustenance.

Wide adaptability, drought tolerance, higher nutritional quality, higher multiplication rate and longer shelf life makes finger millet an ideal crop for use as a staple food and for famine reserve. However, the cultivation of the crop is declining in the region, mainly due to its high labor requirements, especially in weeding and harvesting operations.

During germplasm missions in western Kenya and eastern Uganda, finger millet cultivars whose stalks “snap” upon sudden bending were discovered, however they were agronomically poor and farmers were not adapting them. The Easter and Southern Africa (ESA) Center of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) decided to improve these germplasms and reintroduced them to the farmers.

What challenges does this innovation address?

Cultivation of this crop demands high labor requirements, especially in planting, weeding, and harvesting. These agronomic activities are usually done by hand and by women and children. Due its labor-intensive operations, the cultivation of this crop has been on the decline.

A cultivar with a “snapping trait’ which makes the stalk of the plant snap when suddenly bent beyond an angle of 450 was discovered, improved, and released. The cultivar with this trait is now being easily harvested by hand and is faster compared to using a knife, besides being less tiring for the workers.

The release of improved ‘snapping’ finger millet varieties is a key milestone in reducing labor costs at harvesting and will ease the burden on women farmers and children who perform most of this activity.

Results achieved through this innovation

Very little wok has been done in the mechanization of the different agronomic operations in the rearing of finger millet as it is geographically confined to Asia and Africa.

EUFM 05 the ‘Snapping finger millet green’ released in Kenya was the first ‘snapping finger millet variety’ to be released. Post-launch of this innovative cultivar, response has been very positive with adaption rate of almost 100% in the Bomet county of Rift valley in Kenya. During an agricultural show in 2018 in the rift valley of Kenya, the exhibition area where ‘snapping finger millet variety’ was showcased received the highest number of visitors.

It takes 20 women to harvest one acre of finger millet a day, each harvesting a bag of un-threshed finger millet at Kshs 200 (USD 2) totaling USD 40 an acre, compared to 4 women each harvesting 5 bags each at Kshs 100 (USD 1) for the snapping variety totaling USD 20 a day.

Partners and funders of this Innovation

Through the partnerships of ICRISAT, CRP-GLDC and others including Egerton University, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Institute (KALRO), National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), BMGF-HOPE project, The Development of a Robust Commercially Sustainable Sorghum for Multiple Uses (SMU) Value Chain in in Kenya, Nutritional and Income Security in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands of Kenya and Tanzania (SOMNI) project, this cultivar was brought to the farmers.

Next steps to scale this Innovation

As a Stage 4 and a Maturity level 3 innovation, this cultivar has been taken up by users and are contributing to nutrition and food security goals, poverty reduction, livelihoods & jobs, gender equality, youth & social inclusion. Policy and/or practice changes influenced by these innovative business models have led to adoption or impacts at scale or beyond the direct CGIAR sphere of influence. Among others, this is evidenced by the farmers in Bomet county, Rift valley in Kenya having adopted the variety for cultivation, with an adoption rate of almost 100%.

Author(s): Ramya Kulkarni; (CRP-GLDC MEL Team); Henry Ojulong
Collaborating Partner(s): Paul Kimurto: email:, Chris Oduori: email:, Nelson Wanyera


Acknowledgement: This work was undertaken as part of, and funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC) and supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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