Thriving South African sorghum market possible, feasibility study finds

The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), Grain South Africa and other partners have welcomed the findings of a feasibility study on expanding market opportunities for locally cultivated sorghum.


Sorghum is one of the crops identified by the agricultural pillar of the DSI's Bio-economy Strategy, which recognises the need to invest in value chain analysis initiatives that can support food security and the development of the agriculture sector through import substitution and other measures.


The sorghum feasibility study is aligned to the DSI's drive towards revitalisation of the agricultural sector, in support of the National Development Plan (NDP) finding that the sector has the potential to expand by one million hectares and create one million jobs by 2030.


Welcoming the study's findings, the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, said that innovation as a primary driver of technological growth was at the heart of the NDP.


"The new draft Decadal Plan of the DSI prioritises the revitalisation of traditional sectors of the economy such as agriculture. The draft Decadal Plan provides a strong theory of change for 'innovation driving revitalisation of agriculture', and positions research, development and innovation as drivers of growth in the agricultural sector to support this," the Minister said.


"Against this backdrop, the study looked at the feasibility of a sorghum value chain upgrade in South Africa and the rest of the world, as well measures to address the challenges that the sorghum industry faces locally," the Minister added.


The study analyzed regional and global best practices for sorghum, and investigated potential cultivars and agronomic methods that could lend themselves to South African climatic conditions. In addition, a full value-chain analysis including current and potential new role players was conducted, as well as a cost-benefit analysis of upgrading this value chain.


Grain South Africa, a key partner of the DSI, said with SA's extreme climate fluctuations and the expected warmer and drier conditions for the future, the key role of sorghum in food security can no longer be overlooked. The local sorghum industry is faced with numerous challenges and collaboration is key to finding solutions.  This study triggered the communication and interaction between the sorghum value chain stakeholders which was lacking for a long time. Most importantly, going forward, the outcomes of the study needs to be discussed between all role players to prioritize the initiatives according to their level of importance, impact and feasibility. Grain SA is grateful toward the DSI for initiating and funding the sorghum value chain study.


To upgrade the sorghum value chain to allow the industry to compete and grow, the study makes a number of recommendations. These include –

  • the establishment of a well-resourced sorghum pre-breeding programme, capable of applying modern genomics-based breeding technologies to develop elite sorghum lines that are well-adapted to southern African climatic conditions and have specific resistance to locally important pests and diseases; and
  • the adoption of a sorghum cluster initiative approach, in order to create closer market linkages, improve supply chains, and foster co-operation among value-chain participants.


““It is necessary to continuously improve our commercial crops such as sorghum for sector competitiveness and national food security and the coordination of all efforts and factors from industry to overcome SA’s reliance on imports.  Coordination, facilitation and multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional agricultural bio-innovation programmes across government and industry to drive productive value chains are thus critical to ensure socio-economic impact,” said Dr Maneshree Jugmohan-Naidu.


The study also recommends that the Eastern Cape be considered for a pilot site to demonstrate the value of establishing local processing centres and engaging emerging commercial farmers to supply sorghum to these centres.


The Eastern Cape is considered to have high potential for sorghum cultivation, especially in view of the growing negative impact of climate change on grain cultivation in some of the country's current high-potential regions.


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Issued by the Department of Science and Innovation and Grain South Africa


For more information, contact Veronica Mohapeloa at 083 400 5750


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