Paving the way towards enhanced adoption and consumption of sorghum in Senegal

This project and research was funded by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum and Millet, known as the Sorghum and Millet Innovation Lab (SMIL). This lab is funded by USAID and managed at Kansas State University.

Article Contributors: Cyril Diatta, Sorghum Breeder; Bassirou Sine, Ecophysiologist, SAWAGEN Country Coordinator; Jacques Martin Faye, Sorghum Geneticist; Khady Nani Dramé, Valorizing Research Officer, IRSA, Senegal

In many areas in Senegal, sorghum is only associated with animal feeds. Sorghum has lost its appeal for human consumption due to the digestibility complaints. Hopefully, science can come to the rescue to improve the adoption and consumption of sorghum in Senegal. The sorghum breeding program at ISRA has developed dual-purpose sorghum lines with white grains and a very low level of tannins. Six of these lines displaying different cycle durations (from short- to long-duration) were released for production in different agroecological zones following the north/south rainfall gradient of the country. 

While this research was done in 2011, many people still do not know that these tannin-free sorghum varieties availability. Thanks to the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum and Millet (SMIL) program, efforts were undertaken to further raise awareness about these sorghum varieties and the safe consumption of sorghum by humans. 

The SMIL program supported seed production and distribution to more than 1,000 farmers in eight regions of Senegal (Thies, Fatick, Kaolack, Kaffrine, Tambacounda, Kedougou, Kolda and Sedhiou) for them to test and experiment with the varieties. Among the producers, some seed producers were entrusted to multiply quality seeds for further distribution within their communities and beyond.

To start building functional sorghum value chains and create a market for sorghum grains, processors were involved in the varietal testing. Sorghum grains of the tannin-free varieties (Faourou and Nganda) were given to eight processing groups and two industrial cereal processing enterprises. They were tasked to transform the grains (whole and dehulled) into the food products of their choice, following their own procedures, and then to taste the products and give us feedback. 

The results were beyond expectations. We were amazed by the creativity of the processors, in particular women who turned out to be great cooks. Sorghum replaced pearl millet and maize in making fortified flours for children and the elder generation, Arraw (steamed flour rolls), Tiere (equivalent of couscous), biscuits, etc. Some processing groups went an extra mile to add interesting variations to their base products - mango-mixed arraw, moringa-enriched biscuits, torrefied sorghum flour, etc. The cherry on the cake, was the research team was invited to have exclusive sorghum lunches. White broken sorghum stood very well for our usual broken rice. It tasted so wonderful that we started discussing the possibility of cooking shows and cooking lessons to spread the knowledge and taste of sorghum-based dishes!

Unanimously, all processors appreciated the cleanness and whiteness of the grains. In fact, sorghum sold in bulk in the markets is often mixed and contains stones. It requires thorough sorting and cleaning before it can be processed. The manager of one of the processing groups reported that because of this drudgery and the lack of grain uniformity, he was discouraged from exploring sorghum in his product formulations. Now that he is aware that good quality sorghum can be obtained in the country, he is ready to source it from the producers.  

One of the women processors told us that she would have never taught about using sorghum in her products because nobody eats sorghum in the region where she lives (Kaolack). It was her first time transforming sorghum, and it turned out to be such a perfect fit for their mango-mixed arraw that she decided from now on to use sorghum instead of maize. 

Other enterprising processors connected with health centers to provide diabetic people with their sorghum-based products. According to one of them, sorghum has the capacity to keep blood sugar low compared to other cereals. Hopefully, the physicochemical analysis of the sorghum grains and derived products by the Food Technology Institute of Dakar (ITA by its French acronym) will provide further insight into their nutritional properties.

Most of the processors indicated that they got good quality flour from whole and dehulled grains and did not notice a major difference between them during rolling and cooking. This is a significant advantage as dehulling reduces processing time and provides a slight flour gain after milling. However, this may depend on the processing technique used.

Discussions with the processors made us realize that linking producers directly with processors or via quality-conscious distributors may not be sufficient to solve the question of sorghum sourcing. Competitive prices comparatively to the other cereals, in particular maize and pearl millet, as well as large storage capacities to ensure an undisrupted supply of sorghum throughout the year are critical issues to address to sustain the incorporation of sorghum in our diets.

Featured image at top of page: Cooked sorghum grains
with peanut butter sauce