Sorghum Alternative to Maize

By Makeli Phiri

It is very interesting that last year a good number of farmers and non-farmers (that is those who rent land to grow something) did a wonderful job of growing sorghum.

Sorghum is one crop which is gaining popularity in Zambia, it is drought tolerant that is it does well even when there is less rain equally in drier areas of this country it is number one crop one can think of when it comes into comparison with maize. As already mentioned sorghum is one of the most important cereal crop of the hotter and drier regions of this country. Our valleys experience uncertain and erratic rainfall and sorghum is a preferred crop. It is a crop that requires only three quarters of water needed by the maize crop and it out – yields the maize on poor soils and under low input conditions.

Sorghum grain is as nutritious as maize for food and feed. However, sorghum is a superior grain for brewing because of its good malting capacity.

As seen on the above table sorghum has a slight advantage over maize when it comes to protein content. Under Zambian conditions, sorghum has a few disease and insect pest problems. Birds are the main concern. Some sorghum varieties are attacked in the field if not attended to and damage is at soft dough stage. When mature and hardened there is less damage from birds. As already mentioned sorghum production has picked up because the market is now readily available and the lack of industrial utilization which characterized the past years has changed. Hence, the engagement of our local farmers going into growing of this crop.

Since birds are the major culprits or pests and cause major damage to the crop, it would be better to either plant a larger area to compensate the loss through birds eating the crop while in the field. Manual bird scaring is yet another alternative or option to reduce damage.

Local varieties or traditional types of sorghum required a long growing season and usually have low yield potential such as Sima and ZVS12. These are ideal for traditional farmers because during harvesting they can easily be picked by cutting the grain heads by hand. The short varieties preferred by the commercial farmers are easily harvested using a combine harvester such as MMSH 413, MMSH 375 these are short varieties and are high yielding. They are equally resistant to birds. Hence, the need to have high yielding varieties such as mentioned is very ideal in order to get good income after selling the harvested crop. Since they are improved they are far more resistant to drought.

Sorghum just like any other crop does need a well prepared field for planting. Most sorghum seeds are small, plant these seeds at a depth of 3 to 5cm. deeper planting may lead to poor germination. In low rainfall areas to get reasonable yields planting can be done during the first to third week of December sometimes up to the mid of January. For high rainfall areas if this is attempted planting can be done from the second week of December to end of the month.

The amount of seed needed varies depending on the method of planting. If the farmer is going to plant using the hand – hoe, he will need approximately 10kg of seed reason being that with hand planting germination is seldom complete due to an even planting depth. With a planter often used by the commercial farmers seed rate per hectare is in the range of 7 to 8kg seed. If broadcasting is practiced as is usually done by some traditional farmers a seed of 30 to 35kg per hectare may be needed. This kind of practice however makes weeding difficult. And since sorghum seeds are small whenever they are planted with which ever method, hand – hoed, broadcasting or machine planting. It is important that the seeds once planted they must be in contact with the soil.

Management

Any crop of sorghum needs to be cleaned that is any unwanted plants growing in the field should be weeded as weeds are unwanted plants grooving in an areas where they are not wanted. Any plant can be a weed as long as it is growing in a wrong place where it is not wanted. With sorghum weed the field after a good rain. Therefore, keeping sorghum field, free from weeds in early growth stages is necessary for a good crop is knee – high to control late weeds.

Improved sorghum cultivars yield better than traditional varieties even without fertilizers, however to get maximum yield from the improved types some fertilizer can be applied. Small scale farmers are advised to use one bag of ‘D’ – compound if they so wish and one bag of urea per hectare as top dressing.

Any grain crop is prone to attack by pests and sorghum is no exception. It is important to closely observe the occurrence of these pests and be controlled timely. Should such happen the farmer is advised to contact any crop extension officer in his or her area of in which he or she operates so as to effectively control these pests in the field? Insecticide such as “fastac” and “karate” can be used with supervision from the crop extension worker.

Harvesting depends on which category of farmers are doing this activity. A commercial farmer would use mechanical means that is a combine harvester and a traditional farmer would do this manually, and hand harvested grain heads can be threshed by hand beating or by using cattle to walk on the layers of sorghum heads while on the threshing floor. In both cases that is commercial and traditional sorghum stalks can be used as green fodder or stored as hay to feed animals later.

When it comes to storage, if the harvested grain is not going to be sold quickly better to seek advice on the storage technique. One thing it is advisable not to store unthreshed grain on the heads. The plant material that remains in the field as residue must be incorporated into the soil by winter plowing. Dried grain must be stored in closed bins or drums using a recommended chemical for grain preservation.

Therefore, in times when the country experiences less rain the alternative is sorghum and as already shown it has high nutritional properties slightly above maize in terms of protein. The country cannot go to bed hungry, sorghum is there. In farming a farmer is allowed to gamble or take a risk hence from the two crops mentioned a farmer can gamble depending on which side the weather permits. Sorghum can benefit both humans and the livestock being kept. And since the market has opened up there is no fear of disposal once grown. To our farmers especially those enough land to spare try to go into sorghum growing. Moreover, if we have a lot of sorghum grown competition would minimize where people want maize and the same is needed to feed the livestock. Sorghum indeed would contribute greatly to livestock feeding. It is an alternative to maize yes.

 

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