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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains
Improving Bird Resistance
As noted elsewhere, birds prevent farmers from cultivating the most palatable sorghums in many parts of Africa. Today's bird-resistant types have seed coats containing tannins, which are both bitter and difficult to digest. If a more satisfactory solution can be found, it could be an outstanding contribution to Africa's future, and it would certainly help boost the production of sorghum. New possibilities have recently been discovered (see Appendix A).
Increasing Mold Resistance
In many parts of Africa, molds that destroy grain in the head (panicle) are holding sorghum back. If cultivars more resistant to such damage can be found, then earlier, fast-maturing types could be grown regardless of the humidity during the harvest period. Also, types with dense panicles (a better yielding and more efficient form) could be planted where now only quick-drying open-panicle types are practical. Some strains are inherently resistant to mold regardless of panicle type; these deserve much greater research attention.
Another, relatively easy, intervention is the treatment of seeds against smuts that affect the crop in the seedling stage.
Easing the Burden of Handling
The amount of hand labor needed to prepare the land, control the weeds, and scare away the birds is a serious limit to sorghum production in African subsistence farming. These are significant barriers to increased production. Thus, a major issue raised by any innovation is how much hand labor it demands. This is important to any farmer who has to work the fields by hand. In hoe agriculture one can literally "work oneself to death" by expending more energy than he or she gets out of the harvest.
As already noted, subsistence sorghums are able to meet the complex array of local requirements. The storage life, processing characteristics, and taste of toh, ugali, uji, dawa, and other traditional sorghum-based foods are paramount—more important than the absolute level of yield in the field.
Features that affect traditional foods are hard for scientists to quantify and breed for, especially when the research must be done in centralized research facilities. Subsistence-sorghum breeding is made