Sorghum – an indigenous African grain

A plea has been made for the revival of a nutritious grain indigenous to Africa but in declining production: sorghum.

A research project led by associate professor Laura Pereira of the Global Change Institute at Wits University found that the benefits and value of indigenous foods in the African context had not been fully understood. Sorghum was a particular example.

Its potential was highlighted in a report in the academic journal The Conversation.

Sorghum is as nutritious as maize and has high drought tolerance. This makes it a resilient option for farmers to plant under changing climatic conditions, the report said. However it is often looked down on as “poor man’s food” or the basis of a traditional beer.

The report said interest in sorghum needed to be “reinvigorated” because healthy diets were unaffordable to most South Africans. “Sorghum is one of the most important cereal grains for food consumption in Africa.

“Africa is the world regional leader in total production of sorghum at 25.6 million tonnes, but it has the average lowest yield at 967 kilograms per hectare. It is indigenous to the continent’s savannas and there is archaeological evidence in the Sahara of the use of sorghum dating back 8 000 years.”

However, sorghum production in South Africa had declined from a peak of around 700 000 tonnes in the 1980s to a low of 100 000 tonnes in the late 2010s.

he report called for research and innovation in the production and use of sorghum, not just as a commodity but as a culturally significant food.

“Sorghum products – newly developed ones and reconfigurations of traditional gastronomy – must meet modern consumers’ need for convenience and aspirational preferences. Then there could be a revolution in the sorghum market.

“Public procurement of sorghum, for example in schools, could not only teach children about these crops, but provide a more diversified and healthy diet – while enabling a market for farmers,” it said.

Food for thought, in both the public and private sectors.