• 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 heading 3).
  • 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 major producers of grain sorghum are the USA, Nigeria, Mexico, India and Sudan (USDA, 2017). China, Nigeria and Mexico are the major consumers.
  • Nigeria is the leading producer in Africa. Over half the African production takes place in West Africa. SADC sorghum producing countries are Botswana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, Malawi, Namibia, RSA, Zambia and Lesotho.
  • 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. We import mainly from the USA (99.5% in 2016/17) with a small amount from the Ukraine (0.5%).
  • 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 article “Sorghum sector able to aid small farmers”, written in February 2017 by Wandile Sihlobo (Agiz) at www.thegreenkeeper.co.za, gives a fair overview on the state of this crop in South Africa.

  • 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.
  • 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, 2017). In 2017, South Africa planted its smallest sorghum crop ever. Sorghum yields have not increased at the same rate as maize yields “resulting in less competitive gross margins per hectare” (BFAP, 2017). The area planted to sorghum is projected to “consoidate” at around 60 thousand hectares (BFAP, 2017).
  • The national consumption of sorghum is around 200 000 tons.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Source: South African Grain Information Service (SAGIS), BFAP Baseline Agricultural Outlook 2017-2026; BMi Research 2015 Category Quantification Report: Sorghum Beer in South Africa; the article “Sorghum sector able to aid small farmers” by Wandile Sihlobo (Agiz) at www.thegreenkeeper.co.za.

Government identified sorghum as being the grain crop for producing bioethanol. The Bureau for Food and Agricultural Production (BFAP) looked at the possible impact scenarios this would have on the local industry, which would need to produce around three times what it currently produces. However, despite the enormous potential nothing has materialised by 2017. See the article by Wandile Sihlobo, referred to immediately after heading 3.

Grower points of interest

Consult heading 6 for publications where extensive grower notes can be found.

Drought tolerance

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)

Role players

Find more role players in the general “Grain and oilseeds”, “Grain storage and handling” and “Animal feeds” chapters.

  • 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
  • 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: 033 345 8990/9238 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.

Role players

Find more role players in the general “Grain and oilseeds”, “Grain storage and handling” and “Animal feeds” chapters.

  • 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
  • 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: 033 345 8990/9238 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.
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