• 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 https://sorghumtrust.co.za, website of the Sorghum Trust.

International business environment

  • The largest producers of sorghum are the USA, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan and India. The top exporters are the USA and Argentina. The top importers are China with Japan a distant second (USDA, 2021).
  • 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, as local production decreased.
  • South Africa imported 59 250 t of sorghum in 2019/2020. Imports came mostly from Botswana with just over 3% from Ukraine.
  • South Africa continues to export sorghum to its neighboring countries such as Eswatini (63,7%), Zimbabwe (34,1%) and Namibia (2,32%). In 2019/20, exports amounted to just over 7 640 t.
Source: SAGIS 2021 (2021, October); USDA report South Africa’s Declining Trend in Sorghum Production to Continue (2020, May 27).

Further reference:

  • 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.



Local business environment

Find US Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service report “Declining Trend in Sorghum Production to Continue” (South Africa) (2021, May 3) on the internet.

  • In South Africa the main sorghum grown is the bitter dark sorghum due to the bird problem.
  • Sorghum is mainly produced in the Limpopo, North-West, Free State and Mpumalanga 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.
  • In South Africa, sorghum is mainly used for human consumption (about 93 percent of sorghum usage), which include food (sorghum meal) and beverage (malt) consumption.
  • South Africa’s sorghum meal consumption hovers around 85,000 tons per year. Only six percent of sorghum in South Africa ends up as animal feed, as corn is the preferred grain used by the animal feed manufactures.
  • A statutory levy in terms of the Marketing of Agricultural Products Act is applicable. 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.
  • Around 50 000 ha were planted in the 2021/22 marketing season, down from the 79 000 ha in 2014. The Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) expects the sorghum area to stabilise at 40 000 ha over the next decade with prices trading 20-30% over the yellow maize price (BFAP, 2021).
  • 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.dalrrd.gov.za – and on the South African Grain Information Service website, www.sagis.org.za.
Sources: South African Grain Information Service (SAGIS); The Sorghum Forum SAGIS presentation (15 October 2021); the USDA report mentioned earlier; the article “South Africa’s Sorghum Industry on the Decline” by Wandile Sihlobo (Agbiz).




The Southern African Grain Laboratory

Grower points of interest

Consult the “Websites & publications”heading 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.dalrrd.gov.za (take the “Resource Centre” and “Infopak” options)

Role players

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

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 was the annual Grain Sorghum Market Value Chain Profile which could be found on DALRRD’s Directorate Marketing’s web pages at www.dalrrd.gov.za. (Check to see if they have resumed publishing this document). 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.intSADC 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 https://agbiz.co.za/content/open/identifying-strategic-export-markets-for-sa-sorghum-industry.
  • National Sorghum Producers (USA) at www.sorghumgrowers.com
  • National Sweet Sorghum Producers & Processors Association (NSSPPAA) in the US – www.nssppa.org


Some articles




Share this article

Recommended Posts

Start typing and press Enter to search