Regeneration of biological resources from the tropical BRC in Montpellier, France S. Vancoppenolle © CIRAD


Thanks to its plasticity and wide range of forms (phenotypes), sorghum can be integrated into many cropping systems in tropical and temperate zones. Furthermore, it remains a vital food crop for people in arid and semi-arid tropical regions. Its capacity to provide numerous ecosystem services makes it a crop of the future. Some 20 CIRAD researchers are involved in sorghum research. Their work covers every aspect of the use of the various types of sorghum, from the design of sustainable, input-saving cropping systems to the creation and dissemination of new varieties better suited to current and future environmental constraints and market demand.

The figures for sorghum

  • 5th cereal grown worldwide (in terms of grain production and area planted).
  • 60 Mt per year.
  • In terms of area planted, the three leading producing countries are Sudan (6,9 M° ha), Nigeria (5,7), India (4,2) 
  • In terms of output, the US is well ahead of the pack (11 million tonnes in 2021), followed by Nigeria (6,7), India (5,3), Ethiopia (4,4) Mexico (4,3).
  • It is a staple in the diet of 300 million people in semi-arid tropical zones.

A plant with multiple potential uses

  • Grain to feed people and animals
  • High food-value forage in various forms (green, hay or silage)
  • Soluble sugars can be extracted from sweet sorghum varieties to make syrups, ethanol, 1st-generation fuel ethanol or alcohol/spirits
  • Lignocellulosic biomass to generate energy via methanization, thermal plants and 2nd-generation fuel ethanol production, and to make composite plastics or building blocks
  • Cover crop to conserve soils and remobilize minerals within DMC systems
  • Various high-added-value molecules for agro-industry: tannins, anthocyanins (pigments), kafirins, aconitic acid, etc.

The issues

For semi-arid tropical regions

  • Making sorghum substantially more competitive (boosting yield potential and tailoring grain quality to market demand) in areas where cereal crop intensification is under way.
  • Making production more consistent by maintaining good grain quality (in sanitary, technological and nutritional terms) in zones with strong climatic constraints, where sorghum is primarily a subsistence crop.
  • Diversifying food use of grain sorghum in Africa to boost producer incomes and create jobs in rural areas.
  • Developing food and non-food use of multi-purpose sweet sorghums.
  • Making better use of sorghum's potential to contribute to agroecological intensification as a pest and disease regulator and/or cover crop.

For France and Europe

  • Developing varieties and crop management sequences for temperate supply chains and building stakeholder networks for biomass sorghum (animal feed, energy, construction).
  • Making better use of sorghum's potential to provide ecosystem services (polluted soil detoxification or stabilization, etc.).