Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench), also known as guinea-corn or millet, is considered by agronomists as one of the five most widely cultivated cereal crops in the world as well as the most important cereal food in the northern region of Nigeria, including the Sahelien, Sudanian and Guinea Savannah ecological zones.
The crop is a warm short cycle annual plant, drought resistant and adapted to withstand higher average temperatures compared to other cereal crops. It can be cultivated in almost all the Nigerian states but thrives better in the north where the arid and semi-arid temperatures are well suited for good yield. The major producing states include; Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger,Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba, and Zamfara States.
On a global scale, 2019/20 statistics drawn from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAOSAT) ranks Nigeria as the second largest producer of sorghum in the world behind the United States, accounting for over 60 per cent of the total production in West Africa. In the same period, Nigeria produced an estimated 6.7 million metric tonnes of sorghum, a quantity surpassed by only the U.S which produced 8.6 million tonnes of the crop.
The multipurpose crop has a wide variety of uses, which include; human consumption, animal feed, confectionery and baking ingredients, biofuel/ethanol production,major raw material in the brewing industry, ,as well as other industrial and pharmaceutical applications. Given its nutritional and rising industrial potential in the international market, sorghum comes among the top grades of crops that qualify as wealth creating crops whose market value and demand is constantly increasing.
In 2020, the import value of the crop was about $1.57 billion with China, the world’s largest consumer importing an estimated $1.15 billion worth of sorghum to gratify its rising demand. Japan and Mexico were also top importers in the same period, with import values estimated at $85.38 million and $72.24 million respectively (FAO statistics).
Despite being a top sorghum producer, Nigeria was unable to make any significant revenue in the export market, dominated by the U.S, followed by France and Argentina who amassed huge returns in the billion dollar sorghum industry. It is also on record that sorghum failed to make the list of Nigeria’s top agro commodities in 2020 as reported by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
Challenges confronting Nigeria’s sorghum production/market relevance
According to market analysts and agronomists, the Nigerian sorghum industry and its resultant value chain has been adversely affected by several challenges which have resulted in sub-optimal production, dwindling the country’s potential in the global market.
In one of its reports, the Monitoring and Analysing Food and Agricultural Policies (MAFAP), a programme initiated by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), highlighted some constraints bothering sorghum production in Nigeria. MAFAP stressed that marketing sorghum offers low financial return and the market opportunities are limited because of the lack of connection between producer, industries and international markets. It added that market information is weak, preventing producers from being aware of prices, market needs and opportunities.
It further pointed out that smallholder farmers who make up a vast majority of sorghum producers in the country do not invest much in fertilizer and improved varieties to boost production while the majority of the domestic produce is used for household consumption by rural communities.
Hassan Wandi, a sorghum farmer based in Bauchi Local Government Area, Bauchi State during a discussion with Business A.M, lamented that compared to maize, rice and some other staple commodities which are supported and financed by the government and other organisations, sorghum does not get the required investments and support to bolster production. He explained that this factor has made many of the farmers lose interest in the crop while some have deviated into producing other crops to sustain their livelihoods.
In its assertion of sorghum production dents in Nigeria, the International crops research institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), identified low prices of produce; shortage, poor disbursement and high cost of farm inputs and inadequate credit facilities to sorghum farmers.
Market watchers also noted that due to market deregulation, price support policies for sorghum have often been reduced in favor of subsidies for maize, rice and wheat while policy measures in Asia, North America and Europe control both supply and consumer preferences which in some cases has not been favourable to Nigerian producers.
He further called for provision of adequate storage and infrastructural facilities to minimise production cost and ensure organised and timely delivery to consumers, traders and exporters of the grain commodity.
Towards improved production and export
China’s boisterous sorghum importation coupled with its positive trade relationship with Nigeria in recent years, presents a vital opportunity for Africa’s highest producer to maximise its export potential in the sorghum industry. For this to be actualised, market analysts averred that the country needs to critically evaluate and optimise its production level while the government needs to make concentrated efforts aimed at providing subsidies and financial support to sorghum farmers and also, encourage large scale and mechanised farming systems.
On his part, Wandi suggested that the government should ensure timely and adequate provision of inputs to farmers, facilitate affordable credit to farmers and fund extension services by incorporating sorghum farmers in the CBN-led Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP). He added that crops should be bought from farmers at reasonable prices to ensure sustained production and encourage regular supply to the markets.