Business Day (Johannesburg) - July 19, 2006 | Tamar Kahn - Cape Town, Government has turned down an application by the Council for Scientific an Industrial Research (CSIR) to perform greenhouse experiments on genetically modified sorghum, citing concern about the risks posed to indigenous wild relatives. The decision is a blow for the African Biotechnology Sorghum Project, a consortium of nine research groups, including the CSIR, that has received $16,9m from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop more nutritious sorghum.
The West Africa Biosciences Network (WABNet), which is part of the NEPAD African Biosciences initiative, has agreed on plans to improve sorghum breeding for Africa. An implementation plan was drawn up at a recent workshop in Dakar, Senegal, and resources were allocated to various laboratories to inventory and characterize West African sorghum genetic resources. This effort will be funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) as part of its funding for the Africa Biosciences Initiatives. Experts at the meeting in Dakar also formed a Sorghum Breeders' Forum, the first tasks of which will be to compile a database of sorghum breeders and to aid in knowledge-sharing. West Africa is the center of origin for sorghum. Source: Crop Biotech Update, 4 December 2007.
Will sorghum find its way back to the dining tables of East Africa? A new research project currently in progress aims to do that through the use of the controversial gene modification technology. A consortium of nine global scientific research bodies under the Africa Bio-fortified Sorghum (ABS) project is to develop more nutritious and easily digestible sorghum varieties for different climatic regions containing increased levels of essential amino acids, vitamins A and E, iron and zinc. Through genetic engineering, selected genes, mainly from plant sources, will be introduced into the genome of sorghum in a gradual way that the researchers say will not compromise other attributes of the grain performance. Prof Abdulkadir Egal, a researcher at the Vaal University of Technology in South Africa, says the effort is viable as the crop is native to the continent. If the project succeeds, its backers say it will significantly improve the health of more than 300 million people globally. Sorghum is one of the few crops that grow well in arid climates. The ABS project chose sorghum for its drought resistant nature, unlike other cereals such as maize and rice which require high rainfall. The project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the tune of $18.5 million. Sorghum originated in the highlands of Ethiopia and Sudan before spreading throughout Africa and into India. On average, sorghum accounts for only 4 per cent of the annual total cereals production in the world hence its poor rank in terms of output and total area planted. Source: African Agriculture, 15 March 2008.
Sorghum production is set to increase following the development of a variety that is resistant to the deadly weed that has been wiping out the produce from the farms for years. The scientific breakthrough is the first in the history of sorghum farming in Africa. Dr Dionysious Kiambi, a molecular geneticist with the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics, said scientists have determined the precise segments of the sorghum genome known to confer Striga-resistance and have transferred them to farmer-preferred varieties through conventional breeding with very promising results (Source: Monitor, 29 September 2008).
The genome of sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), a cereal grown widely for food, animal feed, fibre and fuel, has been sequenced. Scientists say it is another milestone for plant biology. Sorghum, a staple for large populations in the West African Sahel region, is tolerant to dry, hot conditions. Scientists hope they may now be able to discover the genetic secrets behind this characteristic. The full paper in Nature (Source: SciDev.net/ Nature, 28 January 2009)
Until recently, sorghum production has been trailing that of the "Big Five" cereals (rice, maize, millet and simsim in that order). It was considered a minor grain crop, with little research done to have several high-yielding varieties in place. A new sorghum variety 'sweet sorghum' mainly grown in India has been successfully tested and proved to be a good crop for production of ethanol. (Source: Ronald Kalyango, the New Vision, 11 February 2009)
By Lamissa Diakité, Amadou Sidibé, Melinda Smaleand, Mikkel Grum, IFPRI Discussion Paper 2008. This paper reviews the structure and performance of the sorghum and millet seed sector in Mali. The Sahel is the origin of pearl millet and sorghum, seed selection and management of these crops is embedded in local cultures, and most producers of these crops are subsistence oriented. Despite seed sector reform, no certified seed of these crops is sold in local markets and farmers prefer to rely on themselves or each other for seed. The dominant source of certified seed is the national seed service. Certified seed is multiplied by contracted farmers and seed producer groups, and supplied to farmers through farmers’ associations, development organizations, and extension services. The informal sector supplies farmers with non-certified seed directly and indirectly through village grain markets.
The lessons learned and policy implications of the Andhra Pradesh Sorghum Coalition (India) are discussed. The institutional innovations achieved demonstrate how the right groups of organizations can effectively establish strategic alliances. Download the document
The Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development said it has distributed and gained reliable results from two drought and weed-resistant varieties of sorghum discovered by, Professor Gebisa Ejeta who was named the winner of the 2009 World Food Prize on June 18, 2009. On of the species, named Abshir, is being produced in a large scale in Shire, Tigray State. The other, Gubeye, in Wollo area of Amhara State registered positive results in withstanding diseases. Currently the variety is being distributed to other areas of the country, Dr. Abera, State Minister of MoARD said. The Ethiopian researcher also made similar researches in West Africa and his discoveries are being used in other parts of the world exposed to food shortage. Prof. Gebisa Ejeta will receive the 250,000 USD award on October 15, 2009 in a ceremony, which will be organized by the World Food Prize Foundation in Des Moines, Iowa. President of the foundation, former U.S. ambassador to Cambodia Kenneth Quinn, said Gebisa's work with sorghum has benefited millions of people in Africa and beyond. (Source: Ethiopian Review, 19 June 2009)
Bob Fanning, extension plant pathology field specialist at the South Dakota State University, USA, explains why growing sorghum in a crop rotation can help mitigate risks associated with droughts. Fanning argues that each crop that can be integrated into agricultural production systems offers more flexibility of intensity and diversity, which especially contributes to the sustainable profitability of no-till production systems. Sorghum shares the water use efficiency of other warm-season grass crops and can serve as a rotational crop to help control Goss' Wilt, a bacterial disease that can seriously plague maize producers. (Plant management Network, 29/04/2014)