Skip to main content
December 11, 2018

Why sorghum is valued

Farmers at a Silla sorghum farm during an exchange programme sponsored by EABL
Farmers at a Silla sorghum farm during an exchange programme sponsored by EABL

Sorghum is a flowering plant in the family of grass botanically known as poaceae. There are 25 species of sorghum in the world.

There are species grown for grain, while others are grown for fodder to feed livestock. Most are drought- and heat-tolerant, and the grains are used as food in rural areas.

In Kenya, it is mostly grown and supplied to companies that make alcoholic drinks. There are two types of sorghum grown in the country: Gadam and Silla.

Gadam is grown in areas with little rainfall. It grows faster, dries faster and requires little rainfall. Farmers in areas with medium rainfall should plant Silla, as it has bumper harvest but requires medium rainfall.

In research, sorghum is efficient in converting solar energy to chemical, and also uses less water compared to other grain crops. 

Biofuel, using sweet sorghum as a high-sugar content from its stalk for ethanol production, is being developed with biomass, which can be turned into charcoal, syngas, and bio-oil.


A hundred grammes of raw sorghum provides 329 calories, 72 per cent carbohydrates, 4 per cent fat, and 11 per cent protein.

Sorghum supplies numerous essential nutrients in rich content (20 per cent or more of the daily value, DV), including protein, fiber, the B vitamins, niacins, thiamin and vitaminB6.

It also provides several dietary minerals, including iron (26 per cent DV) and manganese (76 per cent DV). Sorghum nutrient contents generally are similar to those of raw oats (see nutrition table). Among other similarities to oats, sorghum contains no gluten, making it useful for gluten-free diets.

Sorghum grows in a wide range of temperature, high altitudes, toxic soils, and can recover growth after some drought. It has four features that make it one of the most drought-resistant crops.

One, it has a very large root-to-leaf surface area ratio. Two, in times of drought, it will roll its leaves to lessen water loss by transpiration. Three, if drought continues, it will go into dormancy rather than dying. And four, its leaves are protected by a waxy cuticle.


The leading producers of sorghum in 2011 were Nigeria (12.6 per cent), India (11.2 per cent), Mexico (11.2 per cent), and the United States (10 per cent).

In the past 50 years, the area planted with sorghum worldwide had increased by 66 per cent. In many parts of Asia and Africa, its grains were used to make flat breads that form the staple food of many cultures. The grains can also be popped in a similar fashion to popcorn.

The reclaimed stalks of the sorghum plant are used to make a decorative Millwork material marketed as Kirei board. The species can be used as a source for making ethanol fuel, and in some environments, may be better than maize or sugarcane, as it can grow under harsher conditions. 

It typically has protein levels around 9 per cent, enabling dependent human populations to subsist on it in times of famine, in contrast to regions where maize has become the staple crop. It is also used for making a traditional corn broom.

Sorghum is used in feed and pasturage for livestock. Its use is limited, however, because the starch and protein in sorghum is more difficult for animals to digest than the starches and protein in corn. Research is being done to find a process that will predigest the grain.

The introduction of improved varieties, along with improved management practices, has helped to increase sorghum productivity. In India, productivity increases are thought to have freed up six million hectares of land.

The International Crops Research Institute for Semi Arid Tropics, in collaboration with partners, produces improved varieties of crops, including sorghum. Some 194 improved cultivars of sorghum from the institute have been released.


Poll of the day