ARAB NEWS: Ancient grain helps Asir sow seeds of economic growth

Country: Saudi Arabia
ARAB NEWS: Ancient grain helps Asir sow seeds of economic growth
22 January 2024

Arab News Report: For centuries, the diverse landscapes of Asir have played a pivotal role in the cultivation of a range of crops, with millet, an ancient grain of remarkable versatility and nutritional richness, fast becoming a sustainable staple.

Millet makes up 3 percent of the global grain trade, offering a significant economic opportunity and new avenues for small-scale farmers.
Agricultural expert Suleiman Ibrahim shed light on four distinct varieties of millet — pearl millet, foxtail millet, proso millet, and little millet, all thriving in the fertile lands of Asir.

The planting season at the end of spring and onset of summer takes advantage of the nourishing rains that foster robust plant growth. Harvesting takes place from late summer to mid-fall as the grains mature.

Ibrahim underscores the economic advantages of cultivating millet in Saudi Arabia, emphasizing its role in diversifying crops, reducing dependence on traditional varieties, fortifying food security, and optimizing the utilization of arid lands.

This supports growing it on lands that may not be suitable for other crops, improving land use, and enhancing the total value of local agricultural output.
In one of his studies, Ibrahim estimated the market size of millet in the Asir region to be around 838 tons in 2022. The study predicts that annual production will grow to more than 1,000 tons by 2030, propelled by governmental backing in the agricultural sector.

In December, Asir marked a significant milestone, with its inaugural Millet Festival in Bareq governorate, 120 km northwest of Abha, attracting over 300 farmers and academics. The event served as a platform for the exchange of knowledge, where participants discussed mechanisms to develop millet cultivation in Bareq and the Asir region.

Farmer Umm Mohammed, a participant in the festival, told the Saudi Press Agency about the time-honored techniques employed in cultivating millet.
The process begins with the plowing of fields using oxen, followed by the scattering of millet seeds. Over a meticulous three-month period, plant growth is monitored. During harvest time, the community collaborates, engaging in either manual rubbing of the grains or allowing them to be trampled by bulls to separate the pure grains from the chaff.

The gathered grains are then spread across a level expanse of land for drying. Following this, the threshing process is utilized to refine the grains. Subsequently, they undergo grinding using millstones, rendering them ready for culinary use, whether in the form of bread, porridge, or combined with fresh butter and milk.

Najib Al-Sagheer, an environmental science professor and member of the House of Expertise for Environmental and Agricultural Studies at Al-Baha University, highlights the global importance of millet.

As one of the top five crops globally, millet’s resilience against pests and diseases makes it a promising “grain for the future,” adapting easily to challenging environments in Asia and Africa, and helping to tackle food insecurity and malnutrition.

Al-Sagheer underscores its high nutritional value, rich in vitamins and minerals, making it a valuable energy source.
Crop expert Bashir Ibrahim Amin, who is affiliated with the National Organic Agriculture at the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture, has researched the environmental requirements for optimal millet growth.

The grain flourishes in temperatures between 20-40 C, and prefers well-drained sandy, loamy or mixed soils, he said.
Millet is also drought-resistant, making it ideal for regions with low-to-moderate rainfall, Amin added.

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