According to Tanzania Agriculture Research Institute (TARI), the crop is one of the key food security crops in Tanzania. It is the fifth important cereal crop after wheat, rice, maize, and barley. However, many people do not know these hidden treasurers including commercial and health benefits. Our correspondent Gerald Kitabu caught up with plant breeder who is also acting director at TARI Tumbi centre in Tabora Dr. Emmanuel Mrema and here he sheds light on the new released varieties for increased productivity.
QUESTION: Briefly tell us about sorghum
ANSWER: Sorghum is one of the key food security crops in Tanzania. It is the fifth important cereal crop after wheat, rice, maize, and barley. This crop is well adapted in arid and semi-arid environments under poor soil fertility and high temperature conditions, where other cereal crops, such as maize and wheat, fail to produce grain.
Globally, sorghum is grown for food, feed, and bioenergy on an area of 42 million ha, with a total production of 61.5 million tons of grain, of which 80 percent is produced in Africa and Asia. In East Africa, an area of 5 million ha is devoted to sorghum cultivation. In Tanzania, sorghum is grown in almost all the semi-arid areas by subsistence farmers for food, feed, and beer. An area of 6.2 million ha is used for cereal crop production, of which 0.9 million ha (15 percent ) is under sorghum cultivation.
What in the importance of sorghum?
A: Sorghum is grown for food, feed, beverages and bioenergy. It is a source of carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, fibers, iron, vitamins B complex and minerals like phosphorous, magnesium, and calcium. In Tanzania, sorghum is mainly consumed as stiff porridge (Ugali) often blended with maize or cassava, baked bread, porridge, tortillas, couscous, steam-cooked products, alcoholic, and non-alcoholic beverages. About 808,541 tons of sorghum are produced annually in Tanzania of these, two percent are sold in beverage industries and 98 percent are used domestically for food, feed or local brew. Apart from the local beer made in rural areas, two large companies in Tanzania are the main commercial buyers of sorghum with an estimated amount of 15,000 to 20,000 tons and 1000 to 2000 tons per year. The beer breweries companies produce both clear and opaque beer hence creating a potential market for small holder farmers in the country for income generation and improved livelihoods. The actual demand for the brewing industry in the country is more than 50,000 tons per year.
Q: What are the challenges facing the crop’s high yield?
A: It is true that low grain yield of less than 1.0 tons per ha has been reported. This is considerably below the mean yield of 1.3 tons per ha. The low yields of sorghum in Tanzania for example is attributed to both abiotic stresses such as poor soil fertility, drought and biotic stresses such as striga infestation, stem borers, and shoot fly. Among the biotic stresses, striga often causes severe yield losses. They are parasitic on the host plant and can infest a wide range of crops, including rice, pearl millet
Q: What are the TARI’s efforts to improve the crop’s production and productivity?
A: To empower seed sorghum production, TARI-Tumbi Tabora has dedicated its efforts and managed to release two new sorghum varieties which are good in terms of yield performance and do well in areas constrained by striga infestation. Using the new released varieties, the farmer can harvest up to 4.5 metrict tonnes per ha. “For high yield, I real encourage farmers to use agronomic practices like application of fertilizers on time and in required standard, weeding and managing insect pest diseases,” he stressed.
He also advised the farmers to use appropriate chemicals management, smart harvesting handling and post harvest management.
Currently TARI-Tumbi centre Tabora is working in collaboration with two more centres namely TARI-Hombolo centre in Dodoma and TARI-Ilonga centre in Morogoro to make sure that the farmers are linked with breweries industries to ensure their markets.
Up to now the new varieties have been approved as it performs better in terms of alcohol production. We are advising the farmers to use the new varieties when we are working hard to develop other new varieties which will perform better in industry after making laboratory evaluation.
Q: When did you release the new varieties?
A: The new varieties were released in early January and February this year now we are developing others to be used by companies to produce sorghum seeds. The released varieties have performed better in Tabora, Singida, Dodoma, Morogoro, Coastal region and many others. The released varieties are tolerant to pest and diseases infestation, and striga infestation. They are widely being used by the farmers in the semi-arid regions of Tanzania.
We are planning to have forty acres of land of seed production so that the seeds for the coming season can be readily and adequate available to the farmers.
Q: What is your call?
A: I call on farmers and other stakeholders to access the released varieties, grow and use them because the Sorghum product as it is it has antioxidant materials. The materials can get rid of bacteria, dead cells and toxic materials in their body. It empowers pancreas in balancing sugar content in their body. Therefore, sorghum as it is it is medicine. I encourage people to make Sorghum part of their meal.