DuPont Pioneer, Heartland Global and the Agropolis Fondation announced results from convening with more than 30 experts to discuss solutions for sorghum and millet production systems in Africa. These two cereal crops, which are deeply rooted in African culture and farming practices, have suffered declining productivity for decades.

Meeting participants concluded that a new public-private collaboration among participants could bring unique value to efforts to strengthen product and seed system development for sorghum and millet.

“Sorghum and millet are vital to the diets, incomes and farming systems of millions of smallholder farmers in the more arid regions of Africa that are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as the Sahel and the Horn of Africa,” said Pascal Kosuth, director of Montpellier, France-based Agropolis Fondation. 

The international meeting on Oct. 27-29, which involved research institutes, farmers and businesses from around the world, was organized by Agropolis Fondation, DuPont Pioneer and Heartland Global. The meeting was a first step in gathering diverse perspectives about how to develop sorghum and millet production in Africa, improve food security, nutrition and sustainable agricultural production while supporting prosperity among smallholder farmers.

“As a farmer-producer, it is important to improve sorghum and millet seed varieties, including how they are marketed and distributed, because millions of people depend on it. We also must consider the preferences and the socio-economic conditions of the farmers using them,” said Roger Kabore, president of Association Minim Song Panga (AMSP), a farmer-producer association in Burkina Faso, during the meeting. 

Urgent Need for Improved Rate Gain in African Sorghum and Millet

While in recent years some progress has been made in improving African agricultural productivity, much still needs to be accomplished. Dated hybrids and open-pollinated varieties of sorghum and millet are not maintaining pace with the shocks of changing climate, food demand and nutritional needs of people who rely on these grains.  

In discussing issues such as these at the global meeting, leaders highlighted the strong interdependence between the capacities of smallholder farmers to drive their production systems beyond subsistence. Three key areas emerged as the critical strategies to generate the most impact for farmers, their families and local food production systems: 

  • Strengthen seed systems that more effectively engage smallholder farmers,
  • Improve the capacity of research organizations and local seed companies to develop new products designed to promote farmer productivity in the midst of evolving challenges (e.g. climate change, malnutrition, food security),
  • Strengthen smallholder farmers’ connection to markets and related value chains such as food products and livestock feeding.

“Getting quality seed out of research labs and test-plots into the hands of millions of farmers in remote areas remains one of the largest challenges facing us today. Scaling-up from a handful of breeder seeds to the reliable volumes and distribution required to reach even the most remote areas, requires a holistic approach across all sectors including local seed companies, dealers and national governments,” said Lloyd Le Page, founder of Heartland Global.

Importance of Sorghum and Millet in Africa

Sorghum and millet are African native dryland cereals that show an exceptional resistance capacity in arid climate conditions. While the last decade has seen some moderate improvements in the yield of rice and maize, national sorghum and millet yields have on average remained flat. The substantial agronomic, food and feed potential of sorghum and millet has been described in previous research, but is yet to be fully exploited. Investing in seed systems and new product development for improving yields and nutritional quality of both crops is key to providing farmers alternatives to maize and rice as well as for developing sound strategies to face climate change in Africa.

“Improving the quantity and quality of grain is critical for small farmer household food and income security,” said Le Page. “We also are excited about the critical role that sorghum and millet can play in livestock feed value-chains in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa where pastoral communities are particularly vulnerable to drought, and where livelihood options are few.”

Looking Forward

During the next few weeks, the Agropolis Fondation, Heartland Global, and DuPont Pioneer will focus on finalizing the framework for the emerging Partnership for the Development of Sorghum and Millet Production in Africa. A summary of the meeting will also be made available.

Agropolis Fondation is a French foundation for scientific cooperation. It promotes and supports high-level research and higher education as well as to broaden international partnerships in agricultural sciences and sustainable development research. Heartland Global is a farm, agribusiness investment and economic development business focused on emerging markets, ag-innovation and advisory services.