- 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, Ethiopia, India and Mexico. The top exporters are the US, Argentina, Nigeria and Ukraine. The top importers are China by a long way, Mexico and Japan (USDA, 2020).
- 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
- Over the past 10 years, South Africa moved from being a net exporter of sorghum to a net importer of sorghum, as local production decreased.
- The South African Rand depreciated by 25 percent against the United States Dollar since January 2020 to reach a record level of R19.25 per US$1, driving sorghum import parity prices to historical high levels of more than R5,000 per ton. Mainly two factors contributed to the depreciation of the South African exchange rate: the impact of COVID-19 and the Moody’s downgrade of South Africa’s credit rating to junk status. Coupled with the depreciation of the Rand, South Africa’s sorghum production also increased by 9 percent , which will put pressure on imports.
- South Africa imported about 60,000 tons of sorghum in 2018/19.
- The United States is the major supplier of sorghum to South Africa with almost 95 percent of total sorghum imports.
- South Africa continues to export sorghum to its neighboring countries such as Botswana and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), but at a declining rate. In 2018/19, exports amounted to 4,247 tons, 15 percent less than the previous year.
Source: adapted from USDA report South Africa’s Declining Trend in Sorghum Production to Continue (2020, May 27).
Local business environment
- 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, and 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 area planted per year declined year on year after its peak in the mid-eighties of more than 300 thousand hectares to reach the smallest sorghum crop ever in 2017/18, an all-time low of 29 thousand hectares (BFAP, 2018). One reason given for the decline is that sorghum yields have not increased at the same rate as maize yields (BFAP, 2018 and 2019).
- The sorghum price trades is “typically” between import and export parity levels (BFAP, 2019).
- 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.
- Statistics (e.g. crop estimates, export/import etc) may be found on the National Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) 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 2019-2028 and 2018-2027; 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, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) 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 www.jse.co.za/commodities
- National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) www.namc.co.za
- PCI Agricultural Services Tel: 072 011 0687 www.pciagri.co.za
- Sorghum Forum Tel: 012 807 3958 www.sorghumtrust.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 www.sorghumtrust.co.za
- South African Cereals and Oilseeds Trade Association (SACOTA) https://sacota.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 DALRRD’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).
- CD Roms from the ARC-PPR (Plant Protection Research) include: (i) Crop Pests, Vol. 4: Field Crops and Pastures Pastures (ii) Medically Important Spiders And Scorpions Of Southern Africa. Write to booksales [at] arc.agric.za or infopri [at] arc.agric.za.
- Find Pannar’s Grain Sorghum Production Guide under “Products” at www.pannar.com.
- Consult the AgriSETA Learner Guide Primary Agriculture “Harvesting agricultural crops”.
- 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
- Brody S. 2020, May 24. “Feeding your sheep sorghum”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/animals/sheep-goats/feeding-your-sheep-sorghum/
- Sishuba S. 2019, September 20. “Entrepreneur empowers Eastern Cape communal sorghum farmers”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/agri-business/empowerment/entrepreneur-empowers-eastern-cape-communal-sorghum-farmers/
- Reporter. 2019, September 17. “Sorgho looks to modernise umqombothi with Umoja Beer Powder”. Bizcommunity. Available at www.bizcommunity.com/Article/196/162/195668.html
- Sihlobo W. 2019, July 22. “Sorghum consumption is not only falling in South Africa, but across the African continent”. Available at https://wandilesihlobo.com/2019/07/22/sorghum-consumption-is-not-only-falling-in-south-africa-but-across-the-african-continent
- 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.
- Taylor J. 2018, July 16. “Ever considered sorghum?” Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/farm-basics/how-to-crop/ever-considered-sorghum/
- 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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