Regional trends in production and utilization of sorghum and millets

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West Africa

The West African semi-arid tropics are defined as those areas where rainfall exceeds potential evapotranspiration for two to seven months annually. This area encompasses all of Senegal, the Gambia, Burkina Faso and Cape Verde, major southern portions of Mauritania, Mali and the Niger and the northern portions of Cóte d'lvoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria. Cereals occupy nearly 70 percent of total cultivated area in this region and engage 50 to 80 percent of total farm-level resources (Matron, 1990). Millets and sorghum account for 80 percent of cereal production. During the last 25 years growth in millet and sorghum production has been slow and the total output has been about I percent lower than the population growth per year. Average yield per unit area of millet and sorghum has declined during this period, and the small production increases have primarily resulted from expansion of cropped area. Many factors have contributed to the decreased productivity, including demographic pressure and ecological degradation.

The West African semi-arid tropics can be classified into four agroclimatic zones: Sahelian (annual rainfall <350 mm), Sudano-Sahelian (350 to 600 mm),Sudanian (600 to 800mm) and Sudano-Guinean (800to 1 100 mm). According to Matlon ( 1990), the potential for major increases in sorghum and millet supply exist only in the Sudano-Guinean zone and to a lesser extent in the Sudanian zone. Yield stabilization and land conservation technologies should be given highest priority in these two zones.

Reardon and Matlon ( 1989) reported the food consumption patterns of the population of two villages, one representing Sahelian savannah and the other the Sudano-Sahelian zone. Market dependence was considerably lower among households in the Sudano-Sahelian village and was more equally distributed across income strata than in the Sahelian village. The poor were especially vulnerable in the rainy season when they were more dependent on the market. In fact, purchased food products contributed 60 to 70 percent of all calories consumed by poor and middle-income households during the rainy season. In the Sahelian village white sorghum accounted for only 4 percent of the cropping area but provided nearly 25 percent of the calories consumed outside the harvest season by poor households. Red sorghum and maize accounted for only 10 percent of the cultivated area but provided up to 60 percent of the calories consumed by the poor during non-harvest seasons.

Table 11 shows household expenditures on various cereals (represented by shares of total expenditure) in Burkina Faso, the Gambia, Mali, the Niger and Senegal (Reardon, 1993). These data were obtained from surveys done in good and poor harvest years. They show that rice is an important item in the urban diets of the Sahel, perhaps because of the relatively low cost of imported rice as a result of the decline in coarse-grain production, the perceived desire of consumers to emulate the dietary habits of high-income groups or the West, the relatively easy processing and fast cooking time for rice and the availability of fast foods made with rice from street vendors. Generally the combined share of millets and sorghum exceeds that of maize in the urban diets of the Sahel. In rural diets, however, coarse grains dominate except in a few isolated cases. However, purchased food forms a substantial share of rural diets.

TABLE 11: Cereal consumption in the Sahel: survey resultsa

Population sample Rice Millet Sorghum Maize Wheat Other Total
Ouagadougou (1984/85)  
Overall 41 16 12 15 17 -b 100
Poorest tercile 45 17 15 15 9 - 100
Richest tercile 35 13 8 12 32 - 100
Ouagadougou (1982183)  
Overall 52 6 31 4 7 - 100
Poorest tercile 55 8 33 1 3 - 100
Richest tercile 52 3 20 5 20 - 100
Rural (1984/85)  
Sahelian zone 1 47 29 21 1 - 100
Sudanian zone 0 11 72 16 1 - 100
Guinean zone 6 22 57 14 1 - 100
Rural (1985/86)  
Overall 75 23c   3 - - 100
Bamako (1985/86)  
Overall 57 19 <0.5 1 17 6 100
Poorest quarter 55 20 1 <0.5 16 8 100
Richest quarter 54 21 1 0 19 5 100
Other cities (1985/86)  
Overall 54 21 1 0 19 5 100
Bougouni 8 83c   6 - 3 100
Kayes 4 21c   74 - 1 100
Niamey (1988/89)d  
Overall 55 36 2 16 <0.5 - 100
Rural (1988/89)  
Tillabery 17 70 15 <0.5 <0.5 - 100
Diffa 1 53 16 24 5 - 100
Dakar (1983)  
Overall 66 31 - 3 - - 100
Other urban  
Dioubel 37 48c   <0.5 13 - 100
Mid-Casamance 87 8c   5 <0.5 - 100
Rural Kaolack 11 78c   8 3 - 100
Sahelian zone 48 26 0 4 <0.5 - 100
Sudanian zone 15 74 <0.5 <0.5 <0.5 - 100

a This table presents expenditure or budget shares which are product shares of total expenditure in cash terms (the sum of the imputed value of own consumption plus transfers plus purchases).
b: -:Not reported.
c. Millet and sorghum reported together.
d. Figures only given in shares of cereal budget in physical terms.
Source: Reardon, 1991.

There is an urgent need to develop suitable processing and milling methods for sorghum and millets. Development of innovative ready-to-eat products from these grains that could be sold by street vendors and markets would open up new avenues of utilization and could reduce the dependence on imported rice.

Eastern and southern Africa

Sorghum and millets account for 23 percent of the cereal production of the South African Development Community (SADC) countries, which include Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. However, they are dominant grain crops only in Botswana and Namibia, where they account for 86 and 50 percent of total cereal production, respectively. Sorghum and millets are important in those areas that receive less than 650 mm of annual rainfall. The productivity of these crops is low, and in most SADC countries there is no strategy for the development of sorghum and millet subsectors.

In most SADC countries formal-sector (government-regulated) markets handle only a very small proportion of total sorghum and millet production (Table 12). They handle less than 10 percent of total production in Lesotho, Swaziland, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Most of the sorghum and millets produced in the SADC region is consumed by producing households or sold in informal markets, primarily for traditional beer production. Maize is cheaper than sorghum in many informal markets across the SADC region, and there may be good potential for expanding the production of sorghum and millets in view of the price differences.

One of the reasons that have been suggested for not increasing the production of sorghum and millets is that the productivity of these crops is low. Their average yields are lower than those of maize even in the semi-arid areas of the SADC. Although the total production costs are often lower than those for maize, the productivity of small grains measured in terms of returns of labour tends to be low. Under certain conditions, finger millet has been reported to offer higher economic returns than maize (Table 13). However, it requires more labour input than maize, which limits its production (Rohrbach, 1991).

To make sorghum and millets competitive it is necessary to improve their productivity with an assured quality of the grain. The area under sorghum and millets will not increase significantly unless the productivity of these grains is improved substantially. Therefore there is an urgent need to improve the production technologies for these grains and to disseminate this knowledge to the farmers' fields. Only in this way can these cereals compete locally with maize. Identifying a few well-researched alternative uses for sorghum would yield new avenues for increased utilization and thus act as a catalyst to improve production and productivity.

TABLE 12: Coarse grain production sold through formal market channels in SADC countries (%)

Country Sorghum Pearl millet Finger millet Maize
Zimbabwe (1989/90) 8 9 3 62
Tanzania (1986/87) 1a - - 7
Zambia (1987/88) 1 1 1 69
Botswana (1985) 25 - - 62
Lesotho (1989) 1 - - -
Swaziland (1990) 1 - - -

a Sorghum and millets combined. Source: Rohrbach, 1991.

TABLE 13: Returns per labour hour in Zimbabwe during the 1988-189 cropping seasona

Sector/crop Total labour (hr) Average yield (t/ha) Average price (Z$/kg) Gross margin (Z$/ha) Returns per labor hour (Z$/ha)
Smallholder sector  
Maize 411 1.76 0.23 233.36 0.59
Pearl millet 521 0.38 0.34 30.95 0.06
Finger millet 545 0.45 0.61 173.81 0.38
Sorghum 308 0.32 0.42 54.43 0.16
Maize 360 0.44 0.30 46.71 0.13
Pearl millet 551 0.27 0.45 35.31 0.07
Finger millet 567 0.38 0.68 175.37 0.40
Sorghum 398 0.24 0.36 8/td> 32.44 0.08

a Favourable rainfall in higher average-rainfall zones, poor rainfall in Nyajena. Source: Rohrbach, 1991.


India is the world's second largest producer of sorghum. At present most of the sorghum produced in India is consumed as a human food in the form of roti or chapatti (unleavened flat bread). Walker ( 1990) analysed the supply and demand prospects for sorghum in India. He found that in the past three decades the average per caput sorghum consumption declined markedly in both rural and urban households. Average rural consumption fell from 1.74 to I kg per caput per month. Urban consumption dropped from 0.74 to 0.46 kg per caput per month. It was projected that sorghum consumption would continue to fall at about 0.5 percent per annum. The declining trend in sorghum consumption is partly due to the decline in per caput consumption of total cereals.

Decreases in consumption of sorghum were found to be proportional to increases in expenditure. Increased income is accompanied by increased consumption of wheat and rice, as products made from these cereals are easy to prepare and have better keeping quality. There is also a tendency to eat a greater variety of foods as income and urbanization increase. The price of sorghum relative to those of wheat and rice has not increased in the major sorghumconsuming regions. Therefore other factors are probably more influential than direct price considerations in explaining the fall in per caput sorghum consumption. Prospects of technological change could perhaps change the scenario for improved production and utilization of sorghum.


China is the fourth largest producer of sorghum in the world and in Asia it is second only to India in area and production of sorghum. About 30 percent of the sorghum produced is used for human consumption and 60 percent for animal feed and the manufacture of alcoholic beverages (Kelley, Parthasarathy Rao and Singh, 1992). However, the importance of sorghum as a human food has declined over time. The area under sorghum has also declined, from about 2.8 million hectares in 1979-81 to 1.9 million hectares in 1990. Production has decreased correspondingly, from 7 million tonnes in 1979-81 to 5.3 million tonnes in 1990. In recent years more attention has been given to sorghum fodder and to developing suitable cultivars for this purpose.

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