Friday, August 06, 2021

Sorghum's potential

FOR several years now, big and small banana plantations in Davao Region have been suffering from Fusarium wilt, a disease caused by a fungus. Although, there were remedies suggested to combat the disease, banana farmers have not yet arrived at a consensus which is effective. What is certain is that it left patches of land bare and unproductive.

While banana farmers and companies are keeping the leading agricultural export product in Davao Region alive by searching for the cure, the Mindanao Development Authority (Minda) is seeing an opportunity to introduce an alternative crop – sorghum.

Minda recently piloted the sorghum adaptability trial in the Province of Davao Del Norte for its Sorghum Development Program where sorghum seeds were planted in a 2,500 square meters of land in Barangay Magatos, Asuncion. About 4,000 kilograms of seeds were given to Tagum City.

According to Minda secretary Emmanuel Piñol, the program aims to provide an alternative income for small and medium banana farmers who were affected by Fusarium wilt and rehabilitate their lands.

Minda targets to develop 100,000 hectares of marginal lands and ancestral domains into sorghum plantations by 2021. These areas will be in Davao del Norte, North Cotabato, Sarangani, Zamboanga Sibugay, Lanao del Sur, Bukidnon, and Basilan.

It is expected to generate an annual income of P15 billion for Mindanao as it is expected to boost livestock and poultry sectors.

In a 2019 interview with BusinessWorld, Piñol, who was then the agriculture secretary, said the crop has been introduced in the country about 40 years ago but has not gained traction. Now that the Minda secretary has reintroduced sorghum in Mindanao, it would be important to understand the crop and its viability in the local and international market.

Sorghum or the sorghum bicolor belongs to a grass species which grows like corn. It is grown for its versatile grains which are used as human food but mainly for animal feeds, and ethanol production depending on its variety. It is considered to be the fifth most important crop in the whole world, next to rice, wheat, corn, and barley.

According to National Sorghum Producers in the United States, because of its drought-resistant attributes, it was able to thrive in Northeast Africa where it originated and spread to the highlands of Ethiopia to semi-arid Sahel until it reached India, China, Australia, and the US. It has also been grown in tropical and subtropical regions.

If banana is one of the leading producers and exporters in Mindanao, it is sorghum in the US.

“The United States is the world's largest producer of grain sorghum, having produced 480 million bushels in 2016,” a sorghum producing company said on its website.

“A significant amount of U.S. sorghum is also exported to international markets where it is used for animal feed, ethanol, food aid and other uses. Sorghum farmers had another strong year in 2018, harvesting an average of 72.1 bushels per acre. Farmers planted 5.7 million acres and harvested 365 million bushels,” the National Sorghum Producers said.

The US’s market for sorghum is China, followed by Mexico, Spain, Japan, and Sudan.

The crop’s resilience to drought, its adaptability in highlands, and its potential to expand the livestock and poultry value-chain may have been few of the reasons that Minda is pushing for the cultivation of sorghum in Mindanao.

Although the international market can be future prospects for sorghum, Minda’s focus was yet to serve the local market. Local suppliers of feeds for aqua, hogs, and poultry Pilmico Foods Corporation and a Philippine-based multinational agricultural company CP Foods Philippines have committed to market and buy sorghum produce from the farmers.

Sorghum is eyed to be planted in Fusarium-wilt affected lands and it shares the potential biggest market with bananas which is China. If the project becomes successful, it could help banana farmers in using their idle lands. (RAG)


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