The Yield Dividend: 5-10X increase in sorghum opening new options for Africa? 

April 1, 2016 |

BD-040116-Sorghum-smZaad, Chromatin in key pact to distribute enhanced sorghum seed in Africa 

In South Africa,, Chromatin and Zaad Holdings have entered into an alliance to produce and distribute planting seed for grain and forage sorghum throughout the African continent.

In Africa, sorghum is used in the food and beverage industry and as animal feed. The crop conserves water resources, providing food security in areas where fresh water is limiting.

Let’s put this in context. Africa has 40 million hectares planted in sorghum. That’s 98.8 million acres, appreciably more than all of the US corn crop. But African sorghum is primarily grown from saved seed, an option that often results in low yields. Historically, Africa has seen yields in the 0.5-1.0 metric tons per acre range from these open pollinated sorghum varieties.

Higher yielding hybrid sorghum can produce up to five times as much yield. As David Kisa, CEO of Kapchorwa Commercial Farmers Association, which operates a 2,400 acre farm in Uganda, noted last spring, I have trialed Chromatin’s sorghum hybrids on our farm and produced 2.45MT per acre — per acre! That is unheard of!”

In the aftermath of the Cold War, there was much discussion of “the Peace dividend” — options to change patterns of public spending brought on by a reduction in international tensions. In the context of the deployment of advanced biotechnology, let’s look at the options for a “Yield Dividend” — options to change patterns and outcomes in agriculture-oriented economies, such as Africa.

New markets, rising demand for African sorghum

Ugandan Breweries Limited has become an important purchaser of sorghum in the region. The company’s Agribusiness Manager Joseph Kawuki noted, “Last year we needed 9000 MT for our brewing needs, but could only get 6000 MT from local production. Now, with Chromatin’s hybrids, I believe our farmer suppliers will produce the grain we need and have excess for other uses.”

Africa’s rapidly growing dairy industry which consumes large quantities of crop biomass known as forage. Chromatin has developed highly digestible sorghum hybrids that can significantly improve milk production yields. “There is no milk without forage,” said Mahmoud Benchekour, President of the Milk Producers Association of Algeria. Back in 2014, ACI agreed to distribute new and improved hybrid sorghum seeds across the North African region to help meet the growing demand for animal feed.

New options from yield intensification

A 5X improvement across the continent — and Chromatin tips that up to 10X can be achieved — could result in a 50% bump in sorghum tonnage, while reducing acreage by 55%. Thereby releasing 53 million acres for other staple crops such as soybeans and wheat. Or, bioenergy.

Using standard grain ethanol productivities seen with modern agriculture in the US, that’s enough land released from its current use to produce 26.13 billion gallons of ethanol. By contrast, according to the US Energy Information Administration’s figures, Africa has 11.7 billion gallon gasoline demand. Putting the two together, it’s not difficult to see that there’s an opportunity for Africa, in this context, to gain options on how its agricultural land is used — potentially, to become an energy exporter.

In the past, NGOs have criticized “African land grabs” aimed at producing bioenergy for, among others, European markets. In general, the critique focuses on changes in land ownership — or the use of untapped land resources.

By contrast, in this scenario the sorghum harvest increased by 50% — meaning more biomass available for the forage, food and beverage industries, and the optionality gained relates back to solely to land already under cultivation and requires no chnage in land ownership.

Who’s Zaad?

Zaad distributes seed to Africa’s growers through a network of subsidiaries and established brands. Chromatin, an agriculture technology company, owns and develops grain and forage sorghum varieties, including high-yielding hybrids adapted to growing conditions throughout Africa.

Zaad further invests in numerous growth initiatives which is expected to yield positive results in the medium to long-term.

Who’s Chromatin, again?

Chromatin provides high quality sorghum seeds to growers and producers who are attracted to the crop’s rapid maturation, tolerance to heat, cold and drought and high yields.

Sorghum’s unique biology allows the crop to conserve water resources while producing high yields of grain and biomass on marginal land, making it an ideal crop choice for important sections of the African continent.

Who’s managing what in this alliance?

Alliance activities will be managed by Charles Miller, Chromatin’s Vice President of Business Development and International Sales. Under the agreement, Chromatin will develop and provide seed stocks that will be produced locally by Zaad’s network of growers.

Reaction from the stakeholders

“We are very pleased to access the experience of the Zaad network of growers and distributors in Africa,” said Daphne Preuss, Chromatin’s CEO. “This relationship will significantly advance our efforts to bring high quality sorghum seed products to Africa’s growers at a competitive price.”

“We are impressed with Chromatin’s commitment to sorghum,” said Antonie Jacobs, CEO of Zaad Holdings. “This agreement will provide Zaad access to the latest developments from Chromatin’s global sorghum breeding program, and will enable distribution of high quality sorghum seed throughout Zaad’s extensive sales channels”.

More on the story

For more on the story, visit here (Agricol), here (SeedMarketing), or here (BakkerBrothers).




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