China's hybrid millet possible solution to Africa's food shortages

08:18, March 11, 2011      

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A new variety of China-bred hybrid millet has yielded bumper harvests on trial plantation in some African countries, with its output at least doubling that of local millet varieties.

The millet variety, dubbed ZHM, is the result of 30 years of research led by Chinese scientist Zhao Zhihai, who is lauded the "father of hybrid millet" in China.

Millet is the staple food for many African countries, and experts said that if the Chinese variety of millet is popularized on the continent, it could provide a credible solution to food shortages that have long been haunting African countries.

On the sidelines of China's ongoing parliamentary session, Zhao told Xinhua that his team would travel to several agricultural countries in Africa to promote the hybrid millet.

Zhao, a deputy of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, is a research fellow at an agricultural science institute located in Zhangjiakou city in north China's Hebei Province.

In 2007, his "Zhang Hybrid Millet" (ZHM) recorded an output of 810 kilograms per mu.

The next year, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization introduced a pilot plantation of the ZHM to ten African countries including Ethiopia, Cote d'Ivoire, Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, and Senegal.

"Millet is staple food in many African countries. The success of the ZHM's pilot plantation promises good prospects for its mass production in Africa," said Zhang Zhongjun, assistant to the FAO representative to China.

Zhao's team plans to set up companies in the countries with successful pilot plantations of the millet variety. Once established, the companies will provide seeds and assistance to local farmers.

"Instead of a quadrupled grain output, just a doubled output could help solve the issue of hunger in Africa," said Zhao.

The ZHM has been planted in 4 million mus (266,666 hectares) of farmland in eleven provinces in China, increasing the output by 100 million kilograms.

Liu Jianjun, a member of Zhao's research team have been to Ethiopia twice since 2009 to assist ten pilot planting programs there.

"We helped some local farmers to grow the hybrid millet and promised to buy their harvests. But they refused to sell after harvests as they said the new millet tastes much better than their traditional millet, called teff," Liu told Xinhua.

The output of teff normally stands at 100 kg per mu, but the Chinese hybrid millet can yield between 200 kg to 350 Kg, he said.

The Ethiopia government has given green light to the plantation of the Chinese variety of millet in the country, he said.

"But the problem is if we breed the millet seeds in China and send to Africa, the cost will go up," he said, noting that the problem concerning intellectual property rights could be resolved through the coordination of the Chines government and the FAO.

According to him, Ethiopia has 150 million mus of crop land with about 40 million mus for teff and other similar crops. If half of the 40 million mus are planted with the Chinese hybrid millet, the country would harvest additional 3 billion kilograms of grain.

Hybrid millet seeds are drought-resistant, water-economic and high yielding. The advantages have become even more prominent against the backdrop of global warming and worsening drought, Zhao said.

"I hope we can help African countries to beat hunger with technologies that some African countries lack," said Zhao. (one hectare equals 15 mus)

Source: Xinhua
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