Tratado Internacional sobre los Recursos Fitogenéticos para la Alimentación y la Agricultura

BSF Project - Fourth Cycle

Exploring wide crosses derived crop biodiversity (sorghum x maize) for climate resilience and food and nutrition security in Eastern and Southern Africa
Where are we working?

Smallholder farmers account for approximately 80 percent of the available food produced and consumed in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA). However, agricultural productivity in ESA remains increasingly low. Sorghum and pearl millet, important food security crops in marginalized semi-arid and arid communities of ESA, remain low-value commodity crops, with limited investment towards their development and value addition. This project sought to address challenges in the sorghum and pearl millet value chain by developing and deploying appropriate adapted local, introduced, collected and novel technologies suited to local contexts and farming systems of smallholder farmers in Uganda and Zimbabwe.

What are we doing?

  • conducting a survey on vulnerability and needs assessment in project implementation areas;
  • developing packages to support smallholder farmers to sustainably use and conserve plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA), including access to mechanization, small-scale value addition innovations and production manuals for sorghum, pearl millet and finger millet;
  • information dissemination through publications and reports;
  • conservation of PGRFA in local gene bank;
  • holding field days for farmers and stakeholders in the sorghum and millet value chain;
  • characterization, evaluation, documentation and pre-breeding for traits of importance to adaptation and resilience;
  • securing and leveraging additional resources to scale up project interventions in target marginalized communities through grant applications;
  • institutional and individual capacity-building and conservation and sustainable use of PGRFA; and
  • engaging with local initiatives and projects to contribute to International Treaty implementation activities and visibility

What has been achieved to date?

  • A baseline, vulnerability and needs assessment survey has been completed with 359 households in Uganda and Zimbabwe.
  • At least 662 sorghum, 390 pearl millet and 153 finger millet genetic resources have been assembled and evaluated from national and international gene banks, partners and local communities.
  • Biochemical characterization of sorghum lines has revealed five diverse clusters based on functional properties and uses of the grain in food and industry, providing niche market opportunities for speciality sorghums and subsequent incomes for smallholder farmers.
  • Two gene banks, one at Lupane State University (LSU) and one at the National Livestock Resources Research Institute and a small community seed bank under Bomvitae Agro Industries Limited have made themselves available to contribute to conservation and sustainable utilization of PGRFA.
  • In Uganda, one business model to produce sorghum syrup has been developed and continues to be refined.
  • At least 30 kg of syrup have been sold, with a focus on the confectionery and bakery market segment, thereby providing additional incomes to farmers.
  • One field day has been conducted with 56 participants. Thirty two participants were women.
  • At least 24 plant breeders, including research scientists, 6 gene bank staff, 8 NGO staff, 3 government officials/policy-makers, 11 students, 4 professors, 7 extension workers/officers, 10 agricultural specialists/local experts 15 grassroot organizations and 15 seed producers have been empowered as part of training and capacity-building activities.
  • At least two grant applications have been made as part of resource mobilization, to further strengthen and increase funding available for the sustainability of International Treaty implementation activities in the region.
  • At least three publications and one production manual have been developed as part of packages to support smallholder farmers and stakeholders to disseminate information, ensure project visibility and contribute to sustainable use and conservation of PGRFA.

Who has benefited?

Sixty smallholder farmers have benefited from the project activities to date. Forty female farmers benefited as participants in the field day, or as casual labour to earn an income during field implementation activities. Other beneficiaries include 24 plant breeders, including research scientists in other support fields (8 females), 6 gene bank staff (1 female), 8 NGO staff (1 female), 3 government officials/policy-makers (2 females), 11 students (3 females), 4 professors (1 female), 7 extension workers/officers (5 females), 10 agricultural specialists/local experts (2 females), 15 grassroot organization members (all female) and 15 seed producers (all female).

Best practices and success stories

Implementation of this BSF project has opened diverse opportunities for contributing to the sustainable use and conservation of PGRFA. Using biochemical tools, the project made it possible to gain insight into five diverse clusters of sorghum based on the functional attributes of the grain and potential application to food and industry. Screening for phenotypic diversity also enabled the identification of high brix lines. The new insights into diversity of PGRFA panel afforded by the project present niche market opportunities for smallholder farmers, with an emphasis on speciality PGRFA that can contribute to diversifying smallholder farmer incomes and improving rural economies.
An example of a success story in Uganda is the development of a business model around high brix sorghum lines. Traditionally across Africa, there is limited value addition to sorghum and other small grains, with grain harvested and used only for food, while the rest of the crop is discarded or burned. Through this project, and synergy with the BioInnovate Africa Programme, it was possible to demonstrate the enormous potential of sorghum following the circular economy concept ( This initiative is being led by Bomvitae Agro Industries Limited.
The model deployed is that of small-scale decentralized units that facilitate value addition to sorghum agro produce within communities where production takes place. This provides an opportunity for local employment, farmer empowerment, and the sale of high-value bio-based products as opposed to raw produce, and ensures that income remains within the local economy, thereby improving livelihoods. Through this model, we have been able to produce up to 750 litres of syrup and identified the bakery and confectionery market segment as a substitute for sugar. Through sensitization and promotion of this novel bio-based resource, smallholder farmers have begun to see every component of the sorghum plant as a rich resource and have expressed interest in becoming outgrowers for the production of feedstock that can be sold to the biorefinery in addition to the grain.
Finger Millet, Pearl Millet, Sorghum
Region: Africa
Target Countries: Uganda, Zimbabwe
Implementing institution: National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO)-National Livestock Resources Research Institute (NaLIRRI) . Links to dedicated websites:,,
Contributing donors: International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE)
Partners involved: Lupane State University (LSU) Bomvitae Agro Industries Limited (BAIL)
Contact details: Alexander Bombom ([email protected]). Tel. +256752368259

Share this page