International Sorghum and Millet Collaborative Research Support Program (INTSORMIL CRSP)


Date of this Version


Document Type



INTSORMIL, Sorghum Checkoff, 2010.


U.S. government publication.


Sorghum is Africa’s contribution to the small number of elite grains that supply about 85% of the world’s food energy. Only four other foods rice, wheat, maize, and potatoes are consumed in greater amounts by the human race. Sorghum is the dietary staple of more than 500 million people in more than 30 countries of the semi arid tropics, thus being one of the most familiar foods in the world (Board on Science and Technology for International Development, 1996). Sorghum is a truly ancient grain. Dahlberg and Wasylikowa (1996) reported on sorghum remains found in the Nabta Playa archaeological site in the Western Desert, southern Egypt dating back to 8000 B.C.E.

Sorghum is valued for its grain, stalks and leaves. Many people in the U. S. are familiar with sorghum for the syrup made from the sweet juice in stalks of certain sorghum varieties or for the use of sorghum in silage or for pastures. Sorghum is used extensively worldwide in food production systems (Rooney and Waniska, 2000). In food aid programs the emphasis is on grain sorghum, with particular emphasis on the white and hybrid varieties, as listed in the USAID Commodity Reference Guide (CRG).

The U.S. has promoted “Food Grade Sorghums” as a white colored grain grown on a “tan” plant that produces light colored glumes that can be used to easily produce a white, bland flour. In other parts of the world, all types and colors of sorghum are used to produce various types of traditional foods and beverages. Unfermented bread, such as chapatti and roti are common in India, while tortillas are made from sorghum in Central America and Mexico. Fermented breads such as kisra and dosa are found in Africa, Sudan, and India, while injera is popular in Ethiopia. Stiff porridges called ugali, tuwo, karo, and mato are found throughout Africa, India and Central America, while thin porridges such as ogi, koko, and akasa can be found in Nigeria and Ghana. Couscous from sorghum can be found throughout West Africa, and boiled whole or pearled sorghums are consumed in Africa, India, and Haiti. Worldwide, snack foods are produced from sorghum and can be found in the markets of Japan. All types of alcoholic beverages and sour/opaque beers can be found in markets worldwide.

In Africa, the major staple foods are cassava (118 million tons), maize (53 million tons), yam (50 million tons), sorghum (25 million tons), plantains (24 million tons), rice (23 million tons), wheat (21 million tons), millet (20 million tons), sweet potato (14 million tons), and bananas (12 million tons) (FAOSTAT, 2008). Among these staples, however, sorghum occupies a unique position due to its hardiness as a crop. Sorghum is particularly unique in that it grows in both temperate and arid climates. It is photosynthetically efficient because it is a C4 plant (plants that use the C4 © 2010 United Sorghum Checkoff Program 4 carbon fixation pathway), rapidly maturing and may provide more than one harvest per year (Board on Science and Technology for International Development, 1996).

Sorghum is drought-­‐tolerant and resistant to water-­‐logging (Doggett, 1988), and grows in various soil conditions (Dillon, et al. 2007). These characteristics contribute toward it being the staple crop of Africa’s most food-­‐insecure people, who live in the desert-­‐margin, semiarid tropics—about 300 million people. Like maize, sorghum does not have a true hull or husk (Taylor, 2003). Because of its similarity to maize (hard and floury endosperm and large fat-­‐rich germ), sorghum can be processed using technologies of dry and wet milling applied to maize (Taylor, 2003). The recent elucidation of the genome sequence will enhance future production and nutritional quality of sorghum (ICRISAT, 2009).

If sorghum is so well known and accepted in Africa, why is it not more available to alleviate hunger in African populations? Some researchers (Board on Science and Technology for International Development, 1996) say part of the problem is that sorghum has not been developed into products for major urban areas, and thus lacks markets. In Africa, it remains mostly a crop of small cultivators and is consumed locally where it was grown. A consumption restraint has been the lack of commercially available foods such as flours, breads, cereals and other products for those who are not farmers and who cannot devote time to making flour from sorghum grain. However, the urban marketplace is changing as the food industry is beginning to develop and sell sorghum products.

Sorghum has the added advantage of being inherently gluten-­‐free and has been demonstrated to be safe for people with celiac disease (Ciacci et al. 2007), therefore a benefit for those with celiac sprue or possibly other gastrointestinal disorders. Gluten enteropathy or celiac disease is caused by sensitivity of the gut to the grain storage protein, gluten. Gluten is a component of wheat, and gluten-­‐like proteins are found in oats, barley and rye that are also toxic. Diarrhea occurs in 70% of patients usually up to 3-­‐4 times per day (Connon, 1994) with nutrient and fluid losses. Celiac disease results in malabsorption of nutrients and thus weight loss in many patients. In an already nutritionally vulnerable person, celiac disease can be devastating. The treatment for individuals with celiac disease is to avoid all foods containing gluten (Thompson, 2000).