Finger millet is a traditional food in Uganda, particularly in the northeast of the country. It arrived over 200 years ago from the lake islands of Ethiopia, brought by the ancestors of the Teso people, now the country’s second-largest ethnic group. The civil war in northern Uganda, which lasted for 20 years and ended in 2006, caused serious damage to agriculture and threatened the survival of native millet varieties. Another problem is the introduction of new millet varieties that are faster-growing, cannot tolerate long periods of drought, and do not maintain a constant yield when replanted. Around Kyere, a town in the eastern district of Serere, four traditional millet varieties have survived: emoru, emiroit, engweny and ebega, each with its own characteristics.
Depending on the variety, the small spikes are either separated or joined in a single inflorescence, and the grains are either dark yellow or brown. Tall-stalked ebega and engweny are excellent for making atap (similar to polenta) and a porridge called akuma. Emiroit, which is drought-resistant, and emoru are the varieties best suited to making beer (ajon).
In January, during the dry season, the farmers prepare the land and, when the first rains arrive, they plant the millet, intercropped with corn and sorghum. Three to six weeks later the ground is weeded by hand. When the millet is ripe (in July and August), it is harvested by cutting the stalks with a knife. The spikes are stored whole or left in the sun to dry, and then placed in bags and beaten with a traditional tool (called an adaet or aicomet ) to separate the grains. These are then ground with a stone (the traditional method) or at processing centers to obtain millet flour.
The grains and the flour can be stored for over a year if kept in a cool, dry granary. Moisture and insects will affect the millet’s shelf life and flavor.
Rich in methionine, an amino acid that many staple foods in the area lack, millet is an essential part of the local diet. It is also an important source of income for women, who process it into various fermented and non-fermented beverages. The harvest is a time of great celebration in every house: For the Itesots (from the Teso ethnic group) the fresh millet cannot be sampled until the new harvest has been celebrated by preparing roasted goat and drinking ajon.
Launched in October 2016, the Presidium promotes the traditional varieties among both farmers and consumers, adds value to the products at a local level and in nearby towns, and works to improve cleaning and processing techniques.
Kyere town in the Teso ethnic area, Kyere sub-county, Serere district, Eastern region
Presidium supported by
Intesa Sanpaolo Fund for charitable, social and cultural donations
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