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The sad sight of his fellow Zimbabweans in long queues for bags of mielie meal over
the COVID-19 pandemic inspired the PhD research of Nelson Mandela University marketing student Arnold Moyo.


Continent-wide marketing research digs into sustainable small grain foods

There and then he started to ponder why, when there were traditional African grains available, people were hungry for the less nutritious bags of mielie meal.

His doctoral thesis is looking at factors affecting consumer purchase intentions towards traditional grains in Zimbabwe, specifically the small grain foods of sorghum, millet and finger millet, also known as rapoko.

“Things were bad, there was a drought in Zimbabwe and a shortage of mielie meal,” he recollects.

At the time, a travel pass was given to essential workers involved in the fight against COVID-19 and it came with the benefit of priority access to goods and services so workers could quickly return to work.

“It didn’t sit well with my conscience that I could get my 10kg bag of mielie meal, but I had left behind a long and winding queue of people who had to wait the whole day to get their bag.”

The experience prompted Moyo to reflect on the shortage of basic foods.

“Why are we so adversely affected by drought and famine when we’ve got grain that is resilient, that we’ve grown over the years and is adapted for our conditions?

“That gave me the idea to look at how we could leverage traditional small grain foods to provide food security for the people of sub-Saharan Africa – and that gave birth to my PhD.”

Working under the supervision of professors Felix Amoah and Marlé van Eyk of the Department of Marketing Management, Moyo then expanded his research to the entire continent.

Scoping review published in international journal

Prof Amoah said the scoping review for the study, published in the highly regarded international academic journal, Cogent Business and Management in May 2023, enhanced Nelson Mandela University’s reputation on the global stage. It also attested to the quality of the work and its relevance.

The review showed there had been little research on increasing consumer demand for small grains. 

“The anticipated outcome of the research is the creation of a model for explaining and predicting consumer intentions to purchase traditional small grain foods that is comprehensive and relevant to Africa,” says Prof Amoah. “Furthermore, the broader field of consumer behaviour literature will benefit from the development of a new model and measurement tools for food preference research.

“The model will be relevant to farmers, consumers and marketing practitioners, to improve production, purchase and consumption of traditional small grain foods not only in Zimbabwe but also in other sub-Saharan African countries.”

It’s a vital area for a continent where, according to international aid agency, World Vision, one in five people faced hunger in 2020, with numbers rising over the pandemic. More than a third of Africa’s population is undernourished.

Arnold found that current researchers had often focused on grain availability, or qualities such as taste, texture and smell of the food.

“In the last five years, however, there has been a sustained increase of interest in consumer research on traditional foods, led by Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya,” he says.

“But most of the research focused on food attributes, and it was from disciplines other than marketing, such as nutrition and dietetics, medical studies and so forth, where the focus was mostly on the product.

“However, science has proven that it’s not just about the product. You can make the product available but is it acceptable to the person who is going to consume it?

“Instead of looking at the supply side, let’s start from the side of the consumer so that we stimulate demand.”

Moyo sees this as a more sustainable approach.

“If the market is there, entrepreneurs will come in to provide the service, and the supply chain will adapt to make sure that the product or service is available,” he says.

“Once we understand what happens in the mind of the consumer, then as marketers we can come up with interventions.

“There is a scarcity of studies on consumer behaviour towards traditional foods in Africa, which creates an opportunity for us to promote research in this area and, better still, to provide leadership.”

“Climate-smart” sustainability

There are also environmental sustainability issues, as these traditional grains do not require irrigation, Moyo notes.

“Maize is very susceptible to pests and these crops are not, and they are also healthier and more nutritious than mielie-meal,” he says.

Small grains are grown using traditional techniques, normally without chemicals, which protects the environment from potentially harmful pesticides, herbicides and some fertilisers.

Additionally, they are considered “climate smart foods” because of their resilience to hostile environments, making them a suitable crop for an arid region.

Moyo hopes his research can contribute to the African Union’s programme to promote food security on the basis of traditional small grain foods.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are particularly relevant to the Nelson Mandela study, especially SDGs 1: No poverty, and 2: Zero hunger. It also touches on 3: Good health and well-being, 8: Decent work and economic growth, 12: Responsible consumption and production, 13: Climate action, and 15: Life on land.

“One of the big problems in Africa right now is unemployment and if we can create a market for traditional small grain foods, it will assist in trade, leading us to attaining the goal of zero hunger,” says Moyo.

“It will also move us towards achieving zero poverty, because once we create a stable and sustainable market for traditional small grain foods, we provide greater livelihood security for farmers.

“This will assist in providing not just social security in terms of health, but also economic security. It’s a solution that addresses not only a local but a global priority.”

He hopes the study will be finalised before the end of 2023.

Contact information
Mrs Debbie Derry
Deputy Director: Communication
Tel: 041 504 3057