Sorghum and millet new roles for old grains
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CTA. 1990. Sorghum and millet new roles for old grains. Spore 29. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/45355
Sorghum and millet were the indigenous staple foods of much of Africa before maize became popular, after its introduction by the Portuguese in the 17th century. They remain the staples of thirteen African countries with a total population of some...
Sorghum and millet were the indigenous staple foods of much of Africa before maize became popular, after its introduction by the Portuguese in the 17th century. They remain the staples of thirteen African countries with a total population of some 200 million people. Research indicates the potential for substantial yield increases and improved technology could provide better processing and new uses for these hardy grain crops. As Africa strives to close the gap between population and food production, sorghum and millet will become of increasing importance. This will be especially so where weather patterns are unpredictable because maize is much less adaptable to inadequate erratic rainfall. There are two broad categories of sorghum; red or brown sorghums, which often contain bitter tasting tannins in the seed coat, and white sorghums, which do not. The tannins deter predators but must be removed in order to make grain acceptable for human consumption. Sorghum is both drought-resistant and able to tolerate waterlogging better than maize because of its deep and well-branched root system. It is also remarkably pest-resistant, but unfortunately the compounds that help protect the crop from birds and insects make the grain and the stover less palatable and less digestible for people and livestock. Search for new varieties There are also two major types of millet; finger millet and bulrush millet. They are very different in appearance. The grain of finger millet is contained in a 'hand' of digits (hence the name) and the plant seldom grows higher than 1.3 metres. Bulrush millet can grow to 3 metres. Millets are even more drought resistant than sorghum and can give good yields on infertile, sandy soil which would be unsuitable for most cereals. But millets are very susceptible to bird damage and, as more children attend school and are not available to scare birds, this can cause considerable losses. Farmers are also inclined to switch to maize, as has happened in Kenya and Tanzania, because millets and sorghum demand a great deal more work to harvest, store and process. The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) based in Hyderabad, India, has collected the seeds of over 22,500 varieties of sorghum and 15,500 varieties of millet. During the past decade, expeditions to India, northern Nigeria, southern Sudan, Malawi and Sierra Leone collected many sorghums and millets, including some wild ones. From this seed-bank of genetic diversity it should be possible to breed more new varieties with higher yields and even great resistance to drought. ICRISAT also has operations in Africa in Burkina Faso, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Niger and Zimbabwe. The two main bases in Africa are the ICRISAT Sahelian Centre (ISC) near Niamey, Niger, and the SADCC/ICRISAT sorghum and millets improvement programme at Matapos, near Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Inter-African research collaboration is also assisted through the Semi-Arid Foodgrains Research and Development (SAFGRAD) of the Organization of African Unity, which is based in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso. Improved processing and new uses Sorghum and millet are very similar to maize in their nutritional value. Traditionally both grains are prepared by pounding to remove the husks but, millet and sorghum flour does not keep well and fresh flour has to be prepared regularly. New techniques for easier processing are urgently needed and there have been some promising developments in mechanical decortication. A dry abrasive technique for milling of the husk off sorghum was developed from a Canadian design and promoted by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). About 40 machines were made locally and installed in Botswana, and trials and demonstrations set up in several other SADCC countries. These decorticators proved well-suited to small-scale operations, as the cost of equipment is low. The cost of transportation of grain and products to and from the mill is minimized, employment is created in rural areas and, when milling a reasonably pure strain of white sorghum, a high yield of excellent quality product can be obtained. However, it is more difficult to process mixed crops to acceptable levels of colour and taste. An alternative technique for semi-wet milling of sorghum has been developed by the UK Natural Resources Institute (NRI). The whole sorghum grain is wetted with up to 25% water and after 12 hours the conditioned grain is milled in a roller mill in the same way as maize or wheat. Even in highly bird resistant varieties of red sorghum the endosperm is normally white, and using this technique the white endosperm is effectively separated, leaving the bran and most of the coloured layers clean and almost intact. Semi-wet milling is not the answer for all situations, however, since it is unlikely that the process will be economically viable at a throughput of less than two tonnes per hour. Also, the meal produced has over 20% moisture and is unsuitable for long-term storage. If techniques can be perfected to make sustainable use of much larger quantities of millet and sorghum (particularly red sorghum), which can be grown on the extensive and still under-utilized semi-arid lands of Africa, the consequences will be profound and far reaching: on food security, on rural employment and on agricultural income in many parts of the continent.