What kind of grain is sorghum?
– Femi Ibirogba

The grain sorghum

Sorghum is a local grain that is grown predominantly in the semi-arid savannah and grassland areas of Northern Nigeria and other parts of the world. 

It is nutritionally rich and serves as a staple food in most parts of Northern Nigeria. The grain has assumed commercial relevance lately, especially in the food and beverage industry. It has been found to be a valuable ingredient next to malted barley used in the industry. 

Grain sorghum is an annual grass similar in appearance to maize (corn), although it has more stems and more finely branched roots. Wild sorghum is a tall plant of 5-7 feet. Through breeding efforts, newer varieties now have 2-3 dwarf genes, resulting in a plant 2-4 feet tall and easier to harvest. It has been difficult for historians to tell exactly when and where sorghum was domesticated. 

Whether it was domesticated in Africa, or transported from Africa and domesticated in India and then returned to Africa, is not certain. However, it is believed that African slaves brought sorghum seeds with them to the United States of America, which has turned out to be one of the major sorghum growing and exporting countries in the world. Sorghum is a nutritionally rich, energy-producing cereal that can be grown in areas of the world that are too hot or too dry for other crops to be grown successfully. 

Uses of sorghum 

Sorghum is used in foods, such as porridge, bread, pastries, couscous, and beverages. In Nigeria, sorghum is mainly consumed as tuwo (local paste) and local beverages. Around the world, it is also used for the production of malt drinks, lagers, other beverages and confectioneries, as well as in the livestock feeds industry. It can also be used as a gluten-free replacement for wheat, but due to the lack of gluten, sorghum bread is generally unleavened. 

Today, breeding has resulted in better nutritional value of sorghum and better flavour. With the collaboration of Nigerian Breweries and research institutes, better breeds of sorghum are being developed and are expected to further enhance the commercial viability of the cereal.

Development of new hybrid sorghum

“The decision to shift emphasis to hybrid seeds development triggered a series of activities and motivated a wide range of collaborations with relevant organisations that resulted into the development, certification, registration and release in December 2012 of two new hybrid sorghum seeds, CSR-03H and CSR-04H. The new hybrids are high-yield seed varieties with the potential for four metric tonnes per hectare of land.” 

Nigerian Breweries’ involvement 

Nigerian Breweries’ initial successes in 2006 with the selection of the open pollinated varieties - CSR-01 and CSR-02, with a farm yield of 2.0 to 2.5 tonnes per hectare of land was well received by farmers and other stakeholders. This was because it came at a time when the annual national average was 0.8 to 1.2 tonnes per hectare. 

With the goal to significantly boost productivity from 2009, the company decided to shift emphasis from variety seed identification and selection to hybrid seed development. Our aim then was to increase productivity up to 4 - 5 tonnes per hectare. 

“After meeting our initial project targets with CSR-01 and CSR-02, it soon became apparent that to maintain a competitive sourcing strategy, we must encourage sustainable agriculture by making our preferred varieties very attractive to farmers through higher farm yields. We believed that the sure way to achieve that was through Hybridization,” the company said. 

The decision to shift emphasis to hybrid seeds development triggered a series of activities and motivated a wide range of collaborations with relevant organisations that resulted in the development, certification, registration and release, in December 2012, of two new hybrid sorghum seeds, CSR-03H and CSR-04H. The new hybrids are high-yield seed varieties with the potential for four metric tonnes per hectare of land. 

The development of the new hybrid variety was initiated in 2006 and lasted till 2012. Ideally, such a major hybrid development process should last about 10 years. The speed of the development was due to the company’s commitment and effective collaboration among all implementing partners, as well as planting both during the season and off-season through irrigation. 

Key activities involved in the hybrid development 

The development of the hybrid sorghum seeds involved extensive and painstaking efforts, as well as engagement of strategic implementing partners and huge investments on various farms tests and other activities. From the assemblage of the parental lines of seeds, to series of test crossings, field investigations, to micro malting and brewing evaluations to determine the characteristics of any hybrid seeds developed, a wide range of seed selection techniques were involved. 

Besides, the seeds were tested for agro-ecological adaptation which lasted one year and established that they were acceptable to the Southern and Northern Guinea agroecological zones. The process also involved selection and capacity building of seed producing companies and the selection and training of out-growers. In addition, the process included the production of foundation and certified seeds as well as the naming and registration of the hybrids, among others activities.

“Our investment towards the sustainable commercial production of sorghum is in line with our global sustanability agenda - brewing a better future- which includes a commitment to locally source a minimum of 60% of raw materials used in our operations by 2020. This further validates our licence to operate and supports our standing as Africa’s partner for growth,” Siep Hiemstra, Regional President, Heineken, Africa and the Middle East, said. 

“The huge investments we have made and milestones recorded in the development of sorghum in Nigeria in the last 25 years are a reflection of our philosophy of sustainable development with the goal to support our stakeholders, create a better society and foster good living conditions for us and the next generation,” Nicolas A. Vervelde, MD/CEO, Nigerian Breweries, also said. 

Specific roles of Nigerian Breweries 

Nigerian Breweries’ roles on the development of the new hybrid sorghum include but not limited to the following. It supports the coordination of sorghum hybrid activities with stakeholders; trains MARKETS II farmers on hybrid sorghum production; coordinates reporting and dissemination of sorghum development activities; supports the attainment of 50% buy-back success for produced CSR-01 and CSR-02 seeds and bringing onboard its existing suppliers to be linked to farmers; makes performance data or result of intervention available to MARKETS” management on a periodical basis and provides funding where necessary. 

Sorghum development programme

“For effective governance, we set up a steering committee, made up of the company, USAID/MARKETS II and the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR). The committee is chaired by our company representative. The three institutions form the nucleus of the supply chain partnership. 

“The development process for the hybrid sorghum entailed two major project components which are the research and development angle, and the commercialisation aspect,’’ Kufre Ekanem, Corporate Affairs Adviser, Nigerian Breweries, said. 

Research and development aspect involved sourcing of parental lines from International Crop Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and carrying out of various tests by the IAR. Tests carried out included test crossing, test cross evaluations, which involved field and laboratory evaluations; seed selection techniques using on-farm seed testing and seed registration and release. 

The commercialisation aspect entailed the growing and production of breeder seeds, foundation seeds and certified seeds, he said.


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