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Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I, Grains
There are good reasons for thinking that this may come about. And soon. For example, recent research has shown that sorghum grain can be parboiled to create a fast-cooking, convenient food just as has been done with rice. Also, various projects are under way to produce sorghum flour for sale in stores. In fact, in Botswana sorghum meal is already commercially available.1 Nigeria, too, is pioneering the processing of locally grown sorghum to replace imported grains (see box).
By and large, the actions needed to boost commercial farming differ dramatically from those needed by subsistence farming. Whereas subsistence farmers may be tied (for reasons of precedent, poverty, environment, or fear of the unknown) to local varieties, commercial farmers are not. They can use newly created sorghum varieties, including hybrids and the best of research-facility results. Their grain is to be sold, probably to markets where the products of perhaps thousands of other farmers are pooled. In this case, the standard varieties demanded by the mass market take precedence, and the cash earned by selling them may pay for fertilizers and other inputs that are beyond the meager means of subsistence growers.
The evidence is persuasive that—just as in the cases of wheat, maize, and rice—sorghum responds dramatically to modern technology. For instance, although subsistence-sorghum yields have remained static at or below 700 kg per hectare, those of commercial sorghums have jumped like those of the Green Revolution crops in Asia. In the 1970s for instance, yields from India's rainfed sorghum increased 50 percent (from 484 to 734 kg per hectare) and Argentina's rose 55 percent. Irrigated yields are considerably higher: in India, about 1,800 kg per hectare is common. Hybrid sorghums can achieve even more: 4,5006,500 kg per hectare are now not unusual yields in the United States, Europe, China, and on commercial farms in Zimbabwe.2
In a few cases, sorghum's yield ceiling has been raised to dazzling heights. For example, yields of 13,000 kg per hectare are being reported under special conditions in Mexico.3 In Argentina and the United States 12,000 kg per hectare have been measured. Farmers in China are said to average 10,000 kg per hectare in certain areas.
Given such advances, sorghum's total global production may eventually match that of maize. And perhaps more important, much of the production will be at sites where maize can barely survive. This will greatly increase the food available in the world.
For information on both parboiling and flour production, see Appendix B.
Mean grain yields in the United States—around 1,200 kg per hectare before the release of hybrids—are now 4,200 kg per hectare.