Finger millet is one of the best grains for maintaining a healthy and balanced diet. It contains 40 times more calcium than maize, and is higher in protein, fat and minerals than rice, sorghum or maize. Finger millet is also rich in iron, and has a better energy content than other cereals making it a particularly good source of food for infants, and the elderly. The high zinc content can help reduce stunting in children.
Finger millet has anti-diabetic, antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, due to its high content of polyphenols and dietary fiber. Rural communities have completely neglected the value and versatility of finger millet and other small grains. It has become a marginal crop.
The market for finger millet and other small grains is quite narrow, but it has the potential to grow significantly. People need to change their attitudes. People aged 35 years and above are already familiar with these foods, they just need to be reminded about why they should consume them. One of the main advantages of traditional foods is their high nutritional content. People in Zimbabwe are increasingly concerned with health and nutrition. For example, finger millet is recommended by the Ministry of Health and Child care for people with diabetes because it releases sugar slowly into the blood stream. It is also recommended for people who want to reduce their body weight. It is high in calcium and iron and is also recommended to those that are anaemic and for healthier bones and teeth, better heart and muscle functions, better immune defence and to mitigate blood clotting and pressure.
Traditionally, people would be given finger millet if they were very sick in order to strengthen their immune system. There needs to be a greater awareness about the nutritional benefits of traditional foods if people are to start consuming them on a greater scale. While it is important for the government to support farmers who produce these crops, it needs to promote consumption as well. Otherwise there will not be markets for farmers to sell their produce. If people are going to change their diets, a strategy needs to be in place. It will not happen automatically. This takes time, but also considerable effort in educating people must be undertaken.
High quality must not be compromised in the process of separating the grain from the sheath as it is usually done manually by women on the ground, as a result sand and grit get mixed with the grain, which impacts significantly on the final mealie meal product.
The market for finger millet and other traditional foods, will not grow unless the issue of quality is addressed. New products also need to be introduced such as biscuits, bread and cakes. When tourists visit Zimbabwe, it is not yet easy for them to sample traditional foods in most hotels and restaurants in the country.