Avoiding the Wheat Trap

Researchers in several southern African nations have banded together to produce a white sorghum that can be locally grown to make flour for bread and mealies (cornmeal). They seem to be already on the verge of success. If so, they will have developed the first truly African bread grain. The following is a recent announcement from PANOS, an international organization that specializes in disseminating Third World news.

Fifty scientists from Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, the 10 countries grouped in the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC), are now being trained to breed and produce sorghum hybrids. Soon, that number of trainees is expected to double. Why all the excitement?

To help reduce the region's dependence on imported wheat, researchers in Zimbabwe have developed hybrid strains of sorghum and millet that are designed for use in making flour and bread. The work at the Matopos Research Station near Bulawayo forms part of a drive to reduce food shortages in the SADCC countries.

For most people in the region maize is the staple, but the crop does not grow well in the drier areas. Researchers are trying to develop substitutes that can be grown there and mixed with wheat for bread or maize for mealies. Any surplus could be sold to make high-quality malt.

In farm tests, the new hybrids have produced bigger yields than existing varieties. The researchers expect to have white-grained hybrid sorghum for milling very soon. It is hoped that the white sorghum will satisfy a popular preference for white maize meal. A local milling company is already working with a nongovernmental organization called Enda-Zimbabwe to set up pilot mills in rural areas to grind the hybrid grains for bread.

Before people in areas of low rainfall can be persuaded to abandon their often futile efforts to grow maize, good varieties of the new hybrids must be available in large quantities of the seed.

boiling part of the flour from a local cereal (or root) until it thickens into a gel strong enough to hold the gas released during breadmaking. When added to local flour, yeast, sugar, and salt, this starchy substitute for gluten produces a puffy bread of acceptable texture, taste, and color.

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