Ethiopians form sorghum flour into dough balls that are boiled to form a staple food (dawa). In Nigeria, a similar type of dumpling as well as a flaked, dried sorghum-based food are staples. Many people cook the dehulled grain like rice, or grind it into flour like wheat and make biscuits, cakes, or unleavened breads. Some make couscous out of it. Sorghum is also important for brewing native beer or pombe.

As has been noted, Africa has two vast sorghum belts. Surprisingly, the conditions in each are so different that varieties perfected in one are seldom useful in the other.

The following conditions prevail in East and southern Africa:4

  • Most of the crop is planted as a monoculture and laid out in rows.

  • The rainy seasons tend to be short and (in most places) to come once a year.

  • The plant varieties tend to have shorter stems, tight seedheads (panicles), and relatively high harvest indexes (the ratio of grain to other tissues).

  • Birds are often such serious pests that they alone determine what variety is planted, how it is managed, and what level of inputs is applied (see Appendix A).

  • The main striga species (notably in southern Africa) is the Asian type (Striga asiatica), so that plant breeders can use genes from striga-resistant Indian sorghums.

  • Sorghums for brewing and for animal feed are increasingly important.

  • Both modern varieties and hybrids have been used, at least on a modest scale, and some types introduced from India have proved extremely successful.5

In West Africa, on the other hand, the following conditions apply:

  • Little of the sorghum is grown in monoculture; most is planted in mixtures with cowpea, pigeonpea, roselle, and other crops.

  • The plants are seldom grown in rows, but are scattered randomly and are often far apart. In the drier parts of this zone the land is neither plowed nor otherwise prepared before planting, except that it is sometimes weeded or burned.

  • The plants tend to be tall and lanky and have a low harvest index.6

  • The plants flower toward the end of the rains, thereby helping the grains escape fungi and sucking bugs, which are prevalent while the rains persist but disappear during the dry months that follow.


Information based on Carr, 1989.


In Zimbabwe, for instance, this has led to the release of SVI and SV2, both of which have considerable promise. In Zambia, some equally useful hybrids are in the pipeline.


This is hardly a grave limitation because to most subsistence farmers the stalks are a vital fodder and no less valuable than the grains.

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