Mali: Dual-purpose sorghum grows faster and bigger, even with little rain

| December 18, 2017

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Farmers who tried growing dual-purpose sorghum in southwestern Mali this year say the new varieties could help prevent hunger even during drought.

Malian farmers have long grown sorghum to feed their families and to sell as a staple. Starting in 2016, farmers in four villages tested four new varieties. One dual-purpose variety, called Soubatimi in the Bambara language, is a cross between sugar cane and local sorghum. The result: a plant that matures quickly, develops bigger grains than other sorghum varieties, and has sweet stalks that both people and animals can eat.

Adama Samake farms in Faragouana, in Mali’s Sikasso Region. He is one of 35 farmers who tested dual-purpose sorghum this year. Despite little rain, Mr. Samake says the Soubatimi sorghum grew well and produced a good harvest. He says: “I realized that, compared to other types of sorghum, the dual-purpose sorghum effectively tolerated the period of drought that we experienced this year. The proof: right up until harvest time, the stalks were fresh and strong.”

Most varieties of sorghum tolerate dry weather better than other cereal crops because the plant is better at getting moisture from the soil. Sorghum is also better at minimizing water loss during hot weather. But even sorghum suffers when climate change results in reduced and erratic rainfall.

The early-maturing variety of dual-purpose sorghum takes just three months from planting to harvesting. In Faradièle commune, Fousseyni Samake tried the new variety for the first time this year. He says there’s a big difference between dual-purpose and other types of sorghum. Mr. Samake explains: “The first difference is that dual-purpose sorghum is easy to produce. It doesn’t require much fertilizer or compost. Even better, it tolerates the low rains. And it’s well-adapted to our area and grows very quickly.”

Mr. Samake says his sorghum heads were full of big grains. He fed the stalks to his animals.

In June 2017, Moussa Diawara planted dual-purpose sorghum on a half-hectare in Kouroulamni village, also in Sikasso Region. In October he harvested 1.5 tonnes. He says the new variety is even more drought-resistant than local sorghum, and could help farmers like him cope with the effects of climate change. Mr. Diawara says the dual-purpose sorghum can grow in many types of soil, even muddy or sandy soil.

Although it’s called “dual-purpose,” Mr. Diawara has found at least three ways to use the plant.

He explains: “We squeeze part of the stalk to make concentrated sugar syrup. The children eat it as a snack. And we also use parts of it to make nutritious food for our animals. To do that, we cut the stalks into little pieces, and then we mix with salt and put it in the oven. It’s very good for the animals.”

Describing himself as “totally satisfied” with the new variety of sorghum, Mr. Diawara adds: “Personally, I believe this variety is a solution in the fight against food insecurity in rural Mali.”

This story was made possible with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the African Research in Sustainable Intensification for the Next Generation (Africa RISING) program as part of the US Government’s Feed the Future Initiative.

Photo: Moussa Diawara from Kouroulamni village