Addis Ababa — Ethiopian scientists have developed a new sorghum variety that could lead to multiple yields annually.
According to the National Statistics Agency in Ethiopia, the country has almost two million hectares of sorghum fields, and harvests about four million tonnes of sorghum grains every year.
The new sorghum variety is expected to produce yields two to three times a year with continuous water supply and at least once when there is water scarcity, said Gethaun Mekuriya, Ethiopia's minister of science and technology, during the release of the new variety in Ethiopia last month (28 June). Talegeta Loul, general manager of Ethiopia-based Re-nature Eternal Life Agro Processing SC, said that the national average yield for sorghum is about 2,400 kilograms per hectare, but the new variety could increase yields fivefold.
One of the new variety's unique characteristic, according to Loul, is that it can produce yields for seven to ten growing years without the need for ploughing.
Loul, who led the research team to produce the new sorghum variety, told SciDev.Net: "We have struggled enough to give an output for this country where the majority of the people depend on agriculture for food and livelihoods."
According to Loul, the research team received a small grant from the Ethiopian Ministry of Science and Technology in May 2015, which facilitated genetic treatment of cereal crops such as Sorghum and teff - an ancient grain from Ethiopia and Eritrea that is ground into flour and is used to make the traditional bread and injera: a flat, pancake-like product.
"The benefit of this new variety is ... that once you sow it, you don't need to till the land for up to five years," said Loul, adding that growing sorghum preserves the environment and prevents erosion by providing vegetation cover throughout the year.
Taye Tadesse, the national sorghum research coordinator at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research, told SciDev.Net that if the new variety is distributed to smallholders and used properly, it could boost yields.
Tadesse said that sorghum is a dominant crop in most zones in northern Ethiopia, and it plays a major role in the livelihoods of local communities. "It's used for food, local drinks and cattle feed," said Tadesse. "In fact, this area is known as the sorghum belt and has conditions that are ideal for maximising sorghum yields.
"To improve sorghum yields across the country [is great]. Researchers and development agents have to work with farmers to develop and promote improved sorghum production practices."
He added that other African countries need to have perennial sorghum varieties to help provide food security for the continent.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.