Sweet sorghum even sweeter when grown in partnership

Harvesting new sweet sorghum varieties in Mali.  The versatile crop can be used as household food, fodder for livestock, and even a sustainable source of biofuel.

Harvesting new sweet sorghum varieties in Mali. The versatile crop can be used as household food, fodder for livestock, and even a sustainable source of biofuel.

Sorghum production by a farmer association in collaboration with Malibiocarburant and ICRISAT in Mali.

Sweet sorghum could be one of the key crops to stave off the threats to food and energy insecurity due to climate change. A private-public partnership initiative piloted by Malibiocarburant and the International Crop Research Insitute for the Semi-Arids Tropics (ICRISAT), Malian farmers lead the way in integrating improved sweet sorghum into their traditional production system in West and Central Africa.

The partnership has initiated the development of a sweet sorghum value-chain model focusing on integrated energy production by small-scale sorghum growers and livestock holders for local markets. The first phase will see sweet sorghum used to produce grain for human consumption, as well as fodder from the sweet stems, and later even bioethanol from the extracted juice–food and energy all in one crop.

Climate change, energy security and food security are the three most important global challenges of our time, along with the realted issues of food supply and prices. In most West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) countries, the challenges of land degradation and desertification, compounded by the lack of access to energy and effects of climate change, are alarming. Bioenergy is the most discussed topic as it offers viable energy security. However, African countries are also concerned that the bioenergy revolution could marginalize the poor, raise food prices and degrade the environment through intensive resource use.

Sweet sorghum has great potential as an energy crop for first generation ethanol production, without the risk of compromising food security. These sorghums produce grain in addition to the sugar- rich stalks and are less demanding in water and fertility needs compared to other energy crops (sugar cane and maize). The leaves and bagasse (crushed cane) are rich sources of fodder for animals.

A successful taste test: Both cows and farmers like improved sweet sorghum better

In 2012, 96 farmers in the Koulikoro region (Ouelessebougou) of Mali opted to grow 1 ha each of sweet sorghum. They expected to benefit from the improved grain yield and animal fodder generated by the four different multi-purpose varieties provided by ICRISAT/IER. Unlike the local sweet sorghum varieties, which are characterized by low grain production and quality, the new sweet sorghum types identified by ICRISAT and IER have sweet stems combined with high grain production (brix values over 15% and grain yield performance of more than 2 tonnes) and potential fodder production of up to 11 tonnes/hectare.

Farmers’ acceptance of the new sweet sorghum variety types was the crucial hurdle for the initiative. To this end, in 2011/2012 a series of on-farm trials and evaluations were conducted in collaboration with ICRISAT and farmer organizations in Koulikoro and Dioila. Women and men farmers were very much impressed by the new varieties when they discovered their multiple uses and how they could increase the returns/hectare from their own fields.

When cattle allowed to sweet sorghum stalks later refused to eat other fodder, the farmers called for increased promotion of the technology. Knowing the importance farmers give to the quality of grain for traditional food preparations, culinary tests with farmers were conducted in the Koulikoro region, and the same varieties went into culinary tests at the research station following a standard protocol developed at ICRISAT.

The first sweet sorghum harvest proved to be a success, with an average of 1.3 t/ha of grain production–almost double what the farmers would normally have harvested using local varieties and traditional management. Such was the farmers’ enthusiasm for the sweet stems that not a single stalk was left in the field. Stalks were either sold by the women on the market as a snack, or kept for animal fodder.

Due to the strong demand and depending on availability of seed, the initiative’s aim is to integrate about 250 farmers in 2013 into the program. Each farmer will grow 1 ha of sweet sorghum. ICRISAT is in the process to of registering four sweet sorghum varieties in the national catalogue.

Blogpost by Agathe Diama, a social media reporter for AASW6.

Photo: Malibiocarburant

One thought on “Sweet sorghum even sweeter when grown in partnership

  1. Reblogged this on BioEnergy Consult Blog and commented:
    Sweet sorghum has great potential as an energy crop for first generation ethanol production, without the risk of compromising food security. These sorghums produce grain in addition to the sugar- rich stalks and are less demanding in water and fertility needs compared to other energy crops (sugar cane and maize). The leaves and bagasse (crushed cane) are rich sources of fodder for animals.

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