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Africa’s Critical Cereals

Sorghum, rice, maize, millet and wheat are the five most important African cereals. They form nearly 94% of all cereal production in the continent and they are often strategic food security crops in most African countries.  The following chart displays the 2008 production quantities across the African continent:


2008 Production in Tonnes

Percentage of total cereal production in Africa








Total of  the 5 Cereals
Total Cereal Production in Africa





*Source: FAOSTAT database, FAO

From the chart, sorghum is the second most important cereal produced in Africa. Its grain structure is similar to maize and has high drought tolerant properties similar to millet. Sorghum’s chemical content is comparable to the other cereals except its low protein digestibility characteristics therefore can be used to make a similar product to any of the other four cereals.

It is the primary staple for over 300 million African people especially those living in the arid and semi-arid areas. It grows best in areas that receive between 300 and 800 millimetres of rainfall. It is largely consumed in the sahelian region in West and North Africa, dry savannah and semi-arid regions in East Africa and various parts in Southern Africa.

The sorghum grain has a large endosperm that is usually ground to produce flour and porridge. Most porridge-making processes involve fermentation that breaks down protein molecules to improve digestibility. It is also used to make various types of breads, dumplings, couscous and to brew lager and stout (clear) beers.

Sorghum trade value on international markets is significantly lower that maize, rice or wheat. As the general prices of cereals rise, it is becoming the cereal of choice for food processing companies as they look to reduce their long term cost structures. Also, it is a healthy alternative for diabetics and gluten-intolerant people.  

The nutrition and digestibility improvements envisioned in the ABS project are likely to enhance existing and open new opportunities for industrial and domestic uses of sorghum. The biofortification technology executed in the project is similarly being implemented in rice through the Golden Rice project and can be introduced into other cereals. Therefore, sorghum will not only be enhanced but it will lead to the improvement of other cereals.

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