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CLOSE THIS BOOKLost Crops of Africa: Volume 1 - Grains (BOSTID, 1996, 372 p.)
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VIEW THE DOCUMENT5. Pearl Millet: Subsistence Types
VIEW THE DOCUMENT6. Pearl Millet: Commercial Types
VIEW THE DOCUMENT8. Sorghum: Subsistence Types
VIEW THE DOCUMENT9. Sorghum: Commercial Types
VIEW THE DOCUMENT10. Sorghum: Specialty Types
VIEW THE DOCUMENT11. Sorghum: Fuel and Utility Types
VIEW THE DOCUMENT13. Other Cultivated Grains

Appendix E

After Words

While compiling this book, we were in contact with several hundred researchers who specialize in the various crops described. Along with their technical advice, some sent in provocative quotes, valuable for their pith and perceptiveness. In addition, during the four years that have gone into this book, we came across a number of equally intriguing quotes in the published literature. All in all, there were too many to include in the body of the text, so a selection of them is appended here. Some contradict each other, a reflection of the contributors' different visions and of the complexity of the issues. Each, however, contains insights that complement the earlier parts this book, which perforce had to be focused exclusively on the plants and their promise.

Philosophical Overview

The negative trends in Africa are not solely due to lack of knowledge. We shall claim too much if we say "give us money, we will do research, and we will solve the African food problem."

A.H. Bunting

The resources of farmers are not confined, let us remind ourselves, to the classical factors of land, labor and capital' although by suitable definitions we can fit all resources into one or other of those omnibus packages. We have to think also of seed, equipment, knowledge, chemicals, credit and many other things, as well as of external encouragement, services and support, particularly from the policy of governments. Development in Africa might well take a different course if governments were able to be more effective. Many African governments and government services are inexperienced and some are unstable. Many of them have great difficulty in forming and executing development plans.

A.H. Bunting

Farmers are rightly suspicious of the counsel of anyone who does not himself have to live by the results.

John Kenneth Galbraith

African farmers are not a bunch of village idiots; far from it. They can squeeze more out of a hectare than you or I could, and under difficult circumstances.

Jack Harlan

At least eleven hundred million people do not have enough to eat. Many of them live in countries that cannot afford to import food and where per capita domestic food production has declined since 1980. Most of these countries are in Africa, where the gap between food production and demand is expected to quadruple by the year 2000.

Inji Islam

What Africa needs is more agricultural research conducted by welltrained scientists with good support. It should include - at the least - plant breeding, pathology, agronomy, biotechnology, entomology, and soil science.

Arthur Klatt

The right technology - be it genetic or agronomic - will be put to use. If it increases yields economically, Africa's farmers will adopt it.

Arthur Klatt

Unless we satisfy the basic needs of four billion poor, life for the rest of use will be extremely risky and uncomfortable. Struggling farmers . . . threaten environmental stability, while the growing masses of urban poor are a menace to political stability.

Klaus Lampe

These "old" plants are neglected mostly because both local and foreign "experts" are prejudiced against them, but also because of the experts' own preference for anything that is new!

James M. Lock

The promotion of any indigenous crop must be done within local constraints of labor availability, gender relations, cultural constructs, and environmental stress. If local constraints, practices, and beliefs are not realized, promotion of the crop will not succeed.

Clare Madge

Of the two billion persons living in our developing member countries, nearly two-thirds, or some 1.3 billion, are members of farm families, and of these are some 900 million whose annual incomes average less that $100 .... for hundreds of millions of these subsistence farmers life is neither satisfying nor decent. Hunger and malnutrition menace their families. Illiteracy forecloses their futures. Disease and death visit their villages too often, stay too long and return too soon.

The miracle of the Green Revolution may have arrived, but, for the most part, the poor farmer has not been able to participate in it. He cannot afford to pay for the irrigation, the pesticide, the fertiliser, or perhaps for the land itself, on which his title may be vulnerable and his tenancy uncertain.

Robert McNamara President, World Bank [1973]

The persistence of child malnutrition in Rwanda is attributed largely to a lack of time and money on the part of the mothers. In the northern parts of the country, women spend nearly 10 hours in the field and so can prepare the family food only once or twice each day; this food is usually high in bulk but low in nutritional value and is, therefore, inadequate for feeding young children.

M. Ramakavelo

One of the problems that makes the task of the prevention of famines and hunger particularly difficult is the general sense of pessimism and defeatism that characterizes so much of the discussion on poverty and hunger in the modern world. while pictures of misery and starvation arouse sympathy and pity across the world, it is often taken for granted that nothing much can be done to remedy these desperate situations, at least in the short run.

There is, in fact, little factual basis for such pessimism and no grounds at all for assuming the immutability of hunger and deprivation. Yet those unreasoned feelings dominate a good deal of public reaction to misery in the world today. In fact, pessimism is not new in this field, and has had a major role over the centuries in dampening hearts and in forestalling preventive public action.

Amartya Sen

Instead of running away from these traditional products, we should be encouraging their use as quality foods that are as good or maybe even better than some of the foods people are presently substituting for them.

S. Vogel and M. Graham

Cereals in General

There is no doubt that cereals selected and cultivated by man are the basis for a stationary human culture as in the cities and villages of the world. The apparent value of the cereals was high convenience in storage and in cooking quality as well as a pleasant smell and bland taste of the final product combined with a high level of satiety after consumption.

Lars Munck

One of the possible reasons of the lack of research on native grains is that many African postgraduates go abroad either to USA or Europe and do their higher university degrees on wheat or maize. When they return, it is quite natural for them to continue their studies. (I have seen this happening in the past here in Australia but this is now changing.) It would be a step in the right direction if these postgraduates work on the crops of their own country for these degrees. (As a bonus it might even broaden the thinking of their supervisors.)

Donald F. Beech

There is no doubt that the human body was designed mainly to get calories from carbohydrates - starches and sugars - and since most starchy foods are fairly bulky it can be actually quite difficult for children to consume enough carbohydrates in a day if they come entirely from starchy foods like bread and potatoes and root vegetables.

John Birkbeck

Some 80-85 percent of the population in many African countries subsists on farming, and this large segment needs to be helped in improving itself. As improvements occur in agriculture and as it becomes less marginal and less subsistence-oriented, opportunities will need to be created for people to move to other sectors of activity.

Norman E. Borlaug

Although starchy fruits, roots, and tubers will continue to be important in the diets of African people in many countries and regions, much of the extra food needed will consist of cereals.

A.H. Bunting

There are many weaknesses in the output delivery systems such as physical infrastructure, transport, markets, storage, processing, wholesaling and retailing, and prices. These components determine the extent to which farmers can sell off the farm, which is the essential nexus in the whole business of agricultural and rural development.

A.H. Bunting

These cereal grains supply man with 60 percent of his energy and 50 percent of his daily protein requirements . . . the volume of grain required each year to satisfy man's needs can be calculated to be a highway of grain 2 meters high by 23.5 meters wide, that circles the earth at the equator. Approximately 1000 meters of new highway must be added each year to satisfy population increases.

Vernon D. Burrows

In Africa in the 1970s, the total area under all three cereals [sorghum, maize, and millet] increased by 8 percent, while mean yield declined by 1.5 percent and the human population increased by 29 percent. Unless this trend can be reversed, there is real trouble ahead.

Hugh Doggett

Often, a new variety fails to enter the traditional agricultural setup because no one checked if it will make the preferred foods at an acceptable quality. In Ethiopia, for example, bread- wheat varieties have been identified, but the farmers only grow them for cash as they cannot make good bread or grits using the traditional food-making techniques.

Sue Edwards

An essential feature of African diet is that the staple food - either maize, sorghum, millet, rice. cassava or wheaten bread - supplies about 80 percent of the people's calories, compared with approximately 30 percent eaten by Europeans in the form of bread. For Africans, the staple food is not merely the main source of carbohydrates' but also of proteins, minerals and vitamins.

M. Gelfand

Politics is probably the biggest "stumbling block" in Africa. In one country, they told me that the farmer could double the grain yield of pearl millet with existing agronomic practices but when the farmer did this, the government cut the price in half.

Wayne W. Hanna

The colonial literature is full of nonsense about "scarcity foods." They [the colonials] thought people harvested wild grass seeds because they were hungry and did not know that these were staples and gourmet foods.

Jack Harlan

A major widespread constraint to increased production that remains in Africa, in contrast to Southeast Asia, is that of unstable grain markets. In consequence, rural families grow sorghum and pearl millet by the most reliable methods to meet their own needs and produce relatively little surplus to market. When there is a good year, everyone has a surplus and the market price falls catastrophically. Very rationally, farmers invest their efforts into cash crops or some other enterprise where returns are more assured.

R.C. Hoseney, D.J. Andrews, Helen Clark

Since the most ancient of days, the destiny of humanity has been inseparable from grain.

Even today in the age of the microchip processor, humanity's affairs remain closely linked to the Fates attending cereal grains.


African cereal production has two great weaknesses: there are no facilities for producing top-quality seed and there are no conduits for conditioning, storing and distributing it. Africa is full of entrepreneurs and there is a tremendous opportunity for them to start businesses selling quality seed. India started its own seed-trade that way: entrepreneurs began selling locally produced elite seed to their neighbors. Gradually, an entire distribution system developed.

A. Bruce Maunder

Nowhere in Africa are grains traditionally grown for "yield per hectare." Rather, they are grown for basic ingredients of specific foods such as ugali, injera, couscous, or beer.

J.F. Scheuring and M. Haidara

I suggest that researchers are now avoiding many of these traditional cereals because they consider it infra dig to use simple breeding and selection technology. The crops' status suffers from solely because there are no high tech (genetic engineering, etc.) papers in the literature.

Gerald E. Wickens

In cereal production, Africa's greatest weakness is that there is little local storage. At harvest time farmers must sell their grain, regardless of price. Even in the United States, the drop in grain prices can be startling at harvest time, but most American farmers have their own storage and any farmer can rent storage, either locally or near the markets (which may be thousands of miles away). This allows the farmers the chance to wait and benefit from price rises after the harvest. It also buffers price swings, which benefits everybody except the speculators.

In Africa, the situation will change when a large demand for sorghum and millet flour develops. That will create a need for year-round supplies, and storage capacity will have to be created to provide millers with grain during the off-season. This will serve to draw off grain stocks during flush seasons while maintaining grain stocks during periods of shortage. In turn, it will allow farmers to hold their grain until they're happy with the price. It will also give the farmers an incentive to use superior seedstock, especially because prices won't fall as much during good years.

John Yohe

Plant Breeding

New variety types have to complement a farmer's food security strategy. Farmers in southern Mali have related to me that pearl millet and maize have expected storage times of three years, sorghum up to seven years, and fonio of well over seven years.

D.J. Andrews

I am sure that breeding for multiple objectives is essential if we are to attain our objectives sufficiently rapidly to benefit hundreds of millions of farmers and consumers by the year 2000.

S.C. Harland transformed Tanguis, the main cotton of Peru, by what he named the mass pedigree system of selection. By setting standards for six characters which could be measured on single plants, rejecting plants or small bulks in which these characters were below the norm or the arithmetic mean' and by advancing the standards in successive years, he soon produced populations of improved quality which yielded very much more than before. Starting from preliminary observations in 1940, the first wave of about 500,000 kg of improved seed was issued in 1943; and by 1949 yields around I ton of lint per hectare were being harvested on a field scale by some farmers. In respect of characters other than those for which they had been selected, the new populations were genetically heterogeneous and further improvement in them was evidently feasible.

A.H. Bunting

There are still abundant examples of major plant breeding programs which do not take account of the real constraints faced by many farmers. This is equally applicable to national and to international programs. The importance of this is vividly highlighted by the fact that after forty years of breeding on sorghum and millet at internationally supported research stations in West Africa, less than five percent of the crop is planted to such material. The products simply do not meet most farmers' needs.

Stephen Carr

There has been a tendency to so under-rate the value of traditional cultivars that the extension staff ignore them. In so doing they miss the opportunity to provide a well- worthwhile service to their clients.

Stephen Carr

The germplasm story requires a whiff of skepticism. While the collections may not have everything (do they ever?), the real problem is to use what we have. We need more real breeders and fewer people pontificating about germplasm.

Geoffrey P. Chapman

Time has come when our breeding strategy has to change from the one where land is tailored to suit the requirements of a high-yielding cultivar, to where we tailor the cultivars to suit the harsh and ordinarily inhospitable habitats where the small farmers have to grow their crops.

T.N. Khoshoo

Above all, it is the imagination and ingenuity of the breeder that will be the decisive element in producing any new cereal crop in the future.

C.N. Law

Much progress has been made in the training of African scientists, such as by the Title 12, Sorghum-Millet Collaborative Support Research Program, INTSORMIL. Whereas vehicles and computers have been supplied to thier in-country projects, little or no input has been given to adequate seed storage. Therefore, the maintenance of lands races, varieties, and breeding lines requires frequent re-increases; inefficient activity with risks of losing the original genetic composition.

A. Bruce Maunder

Simple harvesting and processing machines could greatly increase the effectiveness of seed production, and at minimal cost. Even on research stations in Africa, it is common to see sorghum and millet being pounded with wooden clubs. This is just too inefficient: even working night and day, there's no way they can handle the quantities required.

In fact, many suitable small machines are Iying around the developed world, having been superseded by newer and more sophisticated models.

A. Bruce Maunder

Traditional grain varieties have been selected over the centuries to fit the constellation of agronomic adaptability in diverse environments, and at the same time have optimum milling, food quality, and storage properties. Most of the recent improved varieties from breeding programs in Africa yield grain that is poorly developed, headbug damaged, and chaffy when harvested from stressed environments. Such grain lends itself to high storage losses, low decortication yields, poor food quality, and poor seedling vigor. That the farmers don't adopt those varieties should not be a surprise. Cereal grain yield in Africa is the amount of nutrient per hectare that finally makes its way to the human stomach as food and to the animal stomach as feed. It is our challenge to start measuring that.

J.F. Scheuring and M. Ha´dara

Everybody wants to help the poorest of the poor. However, when it comes the reality of applying modern knowledge it is often logistically impossible. To create a new variety - even of a well-understood crop like wheat - can easily take a decade of dedication and perhaps a million dollars of support. It is therefore clearly impractical to reach, individually, the thousands of different subsistence regions, each with its likes and dislikes, needs and desires, climates and conditions.

Noel Vietmeyer

There is a need to strengthen the links between sorghum and millet breeders and the food scientists, home economists, and other scientists involved in postproduction systems and the commercialization of sorghum and millet end products.

S. Vogel and M. Graham


When the aim is to improve a crop, one has also to improve the cropping system and the management of the fields (in terms of plant population, plant protection, soil fertility, etc.).

The yield of any crop is very often related to the degree of intensification of the farming system. Therefore if we remain within the context of a traditional farming system or a slightly improved farming system, the agronomists and the breeders should not aim at achieving high dry-seeds yield; rather they should define the adaptive potentialities of the local varieties and try to utilize these to their maximum.

J.P. Baudoin

Despite the tremendous increases in food production in Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Latin America in recent years, agriculturalists today face even greater production challenges to feed future generations. New Green Revolutions must occur in the more marginal production areas of Asia, sub-Sahara Africa, and parts of Latin America. These areas are generally rain-fed environments that suffer from moisture and temperature stresses, soil fertility problems, diseases and pests, and other difficult production conditions.

Norman E. Borlaug

For arid and semiarid regions with their variable and unpredictable climate breeders should select cultivars that can yield moderately well over a wide climatic spectrum and low agricultural inputs. Maybe the local farmers growing a mixture of cultivars in a field have the right idea!

Gerald E. Wickens


Sorghum is an excellent example of a low-input grain crop that has tremendous potential to meet the needs of an increasing demand for lower input, sustainable solutions to the world's agricultural production problems. Its present adaptation to marginal production areas and its lack of research input to increase its response to external inputs guarantees its better fit into any future agricultural production systems. Its wide, untapped genetic variability found in landraces and its wild an weedy relatives lend tremendous genetic wealth to increase its productivity in these more sustainable systems.

Paula J. Bramel-Cox

Far more attention needs to be paid to sorghum as a human food. In temperate zones the staple grain is wheat, but many of the developing tropical countries cannot grow wheat, and the strain on their financial resources of importing this grain on any scale would be great.

They must, of necessity, grow most of their own food grains. Rice is a good grain type in areas where it can be grown. Maize is a valuable grain, but it shows a narrower range of variation in grain type than does sorghum, and cannot be grown everywhere. Of the tropical grains, the one most likely to repay research is sorghum, because it has so much variation in which to work. It should prove possible to develop sorghum grains of a better standard than any present-day tropical grains.

Hugh Doggett

Our responsibility is to develop even more stable and higher yielding [sorghum] cultivars from this wealth of diversity by making the appropriate collections from dissimilar climates and recombining them into more widely adapted improved types useful to the world's people.

Fred R. Miller

The profuse branching and wide distribution of the root system is one of the main reasons why the sorghums are so markedly drought resistant. Other factors are however of importance. In the first place the plant above ground grows slowly until the root system is well established. Secondly, the system has to supply a leaf area which is approximately half the leaf area of maize. Thirdly, the low transpiration rate must influence the water demands.

Finally, the plant can remain dormant during a prolonged drought and thereafter recontinue its development.

Hector ( 1936)