- Sorghum is mainly cultivated on low potential, shallow soils with a high percentage clay content, not suitable for maize cultivation.
- Sorghum, like other grains, has two basic markets that it serves namely, the human component and the animal feed component. It is used to make such foods as couscous, sorghum flour, soups and molasses.
- In South Africa, sorghum meal (Mabele) is often eaten as a stiff porridge much like pap.
- It is used to make sorghum beer.
- Sorghum was identified as a preferred source of biofuels in South Africa. (Not much has happened – see “Local business environment” heading).
- Sorghum seeds can be popped in the same manner as popcorn (i.e with oil or hot air), although the popped kernels are smaller than popcorn.
- In Ethiopia, sorghum is fermented to make injera flatbread.
- The animal feed industry is an important market for sorghum, because it is a component in the production of poultry, pet, pigeon and ostrich feeds. It is competitive with other grain crops both in price and nutritive value.
- Some varieties can also be used to make baskets, fences, thatch and brushes.
- There are two types of sorghum varieties, namely bitter and sweet sorghum cultivars. Preference is given to the sweet cultivars. Bitter sorghum is planted in areas where birds are a problem since it contains tannin which gives a bitter taste; consequently birds tend to avoid eating it.
Source: The Sorghum Trust; International TradeProbe, Issue No 50 and previous notes from the South African Grain Information Service (SAGIS). More detailed information on the uses of sorghum can be found at www.sorghumsa.co.za, website of the Sorghum Trust.
International business environment
- The largest producers of sorghum are the USA, Nigeria, India, Ethiopia and Sudan (USDA, 2018). The USA and Australia are the top exporters, while China and Mexico are the top importers (USDA, 2018).
- Sorghum is included in the monthly “Grain: World Markets and Trade” circular available from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Find it on the Foreign Agricultural Service Home Page, www.fas.usda.gov.
- Find the website of the National Sorghum Producers (USA) at www.sorghumgrowers.com.
South Africa: exports and imports
Find the latest monthly bulletin and sorghum presentation on the South African Grain Information Services (SAGIS) website, www.sagis.org.za. The regulations relating the grading of sorghum and the requirements for grain exports can be read at www.agbizgrain.co.za website of Agbiz Grain.
- South Africa is a net importer. As a result, prices continue to trade closer to import party levels.
- We import mainly from the USA.
- South Africa is a small player when it comes to exporting sorghum, particularly since 2010. The average annual amount is estimated at 26 000 tons, most of which goes to Botswana and Swaziland. Sihlobo and Kapuya (2015) have pointed to the potential of sorghum exports to countries in the Far East like Japan, Europe and African markets like Sudan and Ethiopia.
- Although the marketing of sorghum is free from intervention, phytosanitary requirements and quality standards should be adhered to. A Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB) certificate is needed for exports.
- The import tariff for Sorghum is 3% of the fob price.
Source: the Trade Intelligence Report “Indentifying potential opportunities for South Africa’s sorghum exports” by Wandile Sihlobo and Tinashe Kapuya (2015); previous notes from the South African Grain Information Service (SAGIS)
Local business environment
The Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) Baseline 2018-2027 includes a look at the effect of zero-VAT rating of sorghum in the interests of food security.
- In South Africa the main sorghum grown is the bitter dark sorghum due to the bird problem.
- During the last few years, sorghum production shifted from the drier western to the wetter eastern production areas. Sorghum for commercial purposes is mainly produced in the Western Free State, Mpumalanga the drier parts of the North West and Limpopo provinces.
- Grain sorghum is planted mainly between mid-October and mid-December. The rainfall pattern and other weather conditions of a particular season mainly determine the planting period as well as the length of the growing season.
- The country has moved from being a net exporter to a net importer (maize has been the more profitable option). The area planted per year has declined year on year after its peak in the mid-eighties of more than 300 thousand hectares (BFAP, 2018). In 2017/18, South Africa planted its smallest sorghum crop ever, an all-time low of 29 thousand hectares (BFAP, 2018). This is because sorghum yields have not increased at the same rate as maize yields (BFAP, 2018).
- South Africa is expected to remain a net importer, with prices trading closer to import party levels, the area planted with sorgum stabilising at around 42 thousand hectares (BFAP, 2018).
- The national consumption of sorghum is around 200 000 tons.
- A statutory levy in terms of the Marketing of Agricultural Products Act is applicable (R16.00/t sorghum). The payment is shared between the producers and first buyers on a 50/50 basis. The purpose of this statutory levy is to provide financial support for sorghum research and information functions.
- The sorghum marketing season in South Africa commences on 1 April and ends on 31 March the following year.
- In Africa, companies like ABInBev (SABMiller) are increasing the use of locally grown crops like sorghum to produce affordable brands. Rural parts of the country are the main drivers of the sorghum beer market, itself a declining market.
- Statistics (e.g. crop estimates, export/import etc) may be found on the National Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries website – take the “Resource Centre” menu option at www.daff.gov.za – and on the South African Grain Information Service website, www.sagis.org.za.
Sources: South African Grain Information Service (SAGIS), BFAP Baseline Agricultural Outlook 2018-2027, 2017-2026; BMi Research 2015 Category Quantification Report: Sorghum Beer in South Africa; the article “South Africa’s Sorghum Industry on the Decline” by Wandile Sihlobo (Agbiz).
Grower points of interest
Consult the “Websites & publications”heading for publications where extensive grower notes can be found.
Sorghum is able to tolerate drought better than most other grain crops. This can be attributed to:
- An exceptionally well-developed and finely branched root system, which is very efficient in the absorption of water.
- It has a small leaf area per plant, which limits transpiration.
- The leaves fold up more efficiently during warm, dry conditions than that of maize.
- It has an effective transpiration ratio of 1:310, as the plant uses only 310 parts of water to produce one part of dry matter, compared to a ratio of 1:400 for maize.
- The epidermis of the leaf is corky and covered with a waxy layer, which protects the plant form desiccation.
- The stomata close rapidly to limit water loss. During dry periods, sorghum has the ability to remain in a virtually dormant stage and resume growth as soon as conditions become favourable. Even though the main stem can die, side shoots can develop and form seed when the water supply improves.
Source: An excerpt from the Sorghum production publication which can be found at www.daff.gov.za (take the “Resource Centre” and “Infopak” options)
- African Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) Project Tel: 011 781 4447 http://biosorghum.org
- Agbiz Grain Tel: 012 807 3002 www.agbizgrain.co.za
- AMT Tel: 073 140 2698 www.amtrends.co.za
- ARC-Grain Crops (GC) Tel: 018 299 6100 www.arc.agric.za Training and research is done.
- Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) Directorate: International Trade Tel: 012 319 8030 www.daff.gov.za
- Diageo Empowerment Trust Tel: 011 783 7903 www.diageotrust.co.za The Trust will invest R70 million in sorghum farming initiatives over the next five years. Find the YouTube video Diageo Empowerment Trust on Sorghum Farming.
- Grain SA (GSA) Tel: 0860 047 246 www.grainsa.co.za
- Johannesburg Stock Exchange Commodity Derivatives Division Tel: 011 520 7231 Chris Sturgess – Chriss [at] jse.co.za www.jse.co.za/commodities
- National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) www.namc.co.za
- NOSA Agricultural Services Tel: 087 286 9298 www.nosaagri.co.za
- Sorghum Forum Tel: 012 807 3958 l-lagric [at] mweb.co.za The Sorghum Forum, consisting of all the participating parties in the sorghum industry (producers, traders, silo-owners, processors, labour, consumers and the ARC) meets regularly to discuss various issues relevant to the sorghum industry.
- Sorghum Trust Tel: 012 807 3958 l-lagric [at] mweb.co.za www.sorghumsa.co.za
- South African Grain Information Service (SAGIS) Tel: 012 941 2050 www.sagis.org.za
- Southern African Grain Laboratory (SAGL) Tel: 012 807 4019 www.sagl.co.za Accredited [ISO 17025] as the reference laboratory for the grain and oilseed industries in Southern Africa.
- United National Breweries Tel: 011 990 6300 www.unbreweries.co.za
- University of Pretoria Department of Food Sciences Tel: 012 420 3202 www.up.ac.za For news of research into byproducts from this grain, contact Prof John Taylor.
Websites and publications
- The website of the Sorghum Trust, www.sorghumsa.co.za, is a first stop. It has notes on the history of sorghum, the uses of sorghum, the cultivation of sorghum, and more.
- www.sagis.org.za, the SAGIS website, for historical information and statistics (national stocks, producer deliveries, import, exports, consumption, weekly parity prices, etc.
- A useful document is the annual Grain Sorghum Market Value Chain Profile which can be found on DAFF’s Directorate Marketing’s web pages at www.daff.gov.za. Production guidelines can also be found under the “Resource Centre” options.
- Publications available from the ARC include “Sorghum Diseases in South Africa”, “Field Guide for Sorghum Pests” (available in Afrikaans as “Veldgids vir Sorghumplae”), and the “Sorghum Production Guide” (“Sorghum Produksiehandleiding” in Afrikaans). Order on www.arc.agric.za or contact 018 299 6199.
- Order online at www.arc.agric.za, call 012 842 4017 or send an email to stoltze [at] arc.agric.za for the following publications, available from the ARC Agricultural Engineering: Agro-processing of Cereal Crops Vol. 2 (Sorghum, wheat).
- Find Pannar’s Grain Sorghum Production Guide under “Products” at www.pannar.com.
- Taylor, J.R.N. & Duodu, K.G (Eds.). 2018. Sorghum and Millets: Chemistry, Technology, and Nutritional Attributes. 2nd edition. Pretoria: University of Pretoria.
- Taylor, J.R.N. & Awika, J. 2018. Gluten-free Ancient Grains. Cambridge: Woodhead.
- www.sadc.int – SADC is South Africa’s primary sorghum export market.
- Download “Identifying strategic export markets for SA sorghum industry”, a publication done in 2015 by Agbiz, at http://agbiz.co.za/trade-intelligence-1/publications.
- National Sorghum Producers (USA) at www.sorghumgrowers.com
- National Sweet Sorghum Producers & Processors Association (NSSPPAA) in the US – www.nssppa.org
- Sihlobo, W. 2019, January 1. “Can South Africa’s sorghum industry be revived?” Available at https://wandilesihlobo.com/2019/01/01/can-south-africas-sorghum-industry-be-revived/
- A previous article by Wandile Sihlobo, “The decline of the South African sorghum industry”, traced this decline. Find it on https://wandilesihlobo.com. Despite the enormous potential of sorghum being used for producing bioethanol, nothing has materialised. Bureau for Food and Agricultural Production (BFAP) has previously looked at the possible impact scenarios this would have on the local industry.
- Find the article “Move over, quinoa: sorghum is the new ‘Wonder grain’” on www.theguardian.com.
- Grain SA (August 2017) was concerned that a section of the Liquor Products Amendment Bill limited the use of grain sorghum in beer production.” Find the article in Bizcommunity at www.bizcommunity.com/Article/196/307/166182.html#topstory
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