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Description | Overview | History | Cultivation pattern | Sorghum producing countries | Indian sorghum or jowar market | Major trading centers

Sorghum is an annual erect plant that bears a cereal seed that is used the world over as a food and feed and for a long list of other uses as well. It comes from the family of "Poaceae" and grows to a height around 6 feet, though for harvesting ease, many dwarf types of plant are also produced. The cereal crop is perennial in nature possessing corn like leaves and bearing the grain in a compact cluster. Approximately 30 other species are cultivated for the sorghum genus.

The sorghum grain is an important cereal grain that is said to be the staple food of the poor in many countries. The grain is similar to that of maize but having more fats and proteins. This proves beneficial for the livestock and hence is the reason of the popularity of the crop as a feed. it is also known with different names depending upon the geographical are including Durra, Egyptian millet, Guinea corn, Jowar, Juwar, Milo, Shallu and Sudan grass.


Sorghum is the fifth most important cereal crop in the world after wheat, rice, maize and barley. It is found in the arid and semi arid parts of the world, due to its feature of being extremely drought tolerant. The nutritional value of sorghum is same as of that of corn and that is why it is gaining importance as livestock feed. Sorghum is also used for ethanol production, producing grain alcohol, starch production, production of adhesives and paper other than being used as food and feed. Numerous types of genetically different sorghum are available that are broadly categorized into four heads
  • Grain sorghum (grown for grain)
  • Sorgos (grown for fodder)
  • Grass sorghum (wild sorghum)
  • Broomcorn sorghum (used in making brooms)

The popularity of the crop is clear from the fact that it is cultivated in 99 countries in the world, major production share contributed by the African countries. The total world production of the cereal grain in 2005-06 was 58.9 million metric tons, USA accounting up to 17% of the world’s total production. Nigeria and India were on the 2nd and 3rd position in the major producer countries’ list. Regarding the consumption pattern, the world’s total consumption hover around 58 million metric tons, Nigeria being at the top of the list. More than 55% of the total production is consumed as a food for human being and around 33% is used as fodder. The major sorghum producers in the world with their consumption figures pertaining to the year 2005 are

  • Nigeria (10450000 metric tons)

  • Mexico (8600000 metric tons)
  • India (7700000 metric tons)
  • United States (4851000 metric tons)
  • Sudan (4250000 metric tons)
  • China (2500000 metric tons)
  • Argentina (2200000 metric tons)
  • Ethiopia (2200000 metric tons)
  • Brazil (1900000 metric tons)
  • Australia (1855000 metric tons)
  • Burkina (1837000 metric tons)
  • Japan (1400000 metric tons)
  • Egypt (900000 metric tons)
  • Tanzania (890000 metric tons)
  • Niger (750000 metric tons)
  • European Union (550000 metric tons)

World trade in sorghum is dominated by the largest producer of the crop in the world i.e. U.S.A as most of the production in the country accounts for export in the foreign market. The total exports summed up to 5626000 metric tons in the year 2005-06 with USA contributing around 88% of the world’s total exports. Argentina, Australia, Nigeria, China and India are the other important exporters of the cereal grain. The scenario of the world imports are depicted in the form of a table below showing the major sorghum importers of the world along with their import figures

  • Mexico (3000000 metric tons)

  • Japan (1393000 metric tons)
  • Sudan (250000 metric tons)
  • European Union (150000 metric tons)
  • Somalia (75000 metric tons)
  • Chile (65000 metric tons)
  • Israel (50000 metric tons)
  • Niger (50000 metric tons)
  • Taiwan (50000 metric tons)
  • Eritrea (25000 metric tons)

Sorghum, being a tropical crop, has its history related to the hot and humid areas of the world. The cereal grain is said to have originated around the present day Ethiopia as a wild grass as early as 8000 years ago. The place where the crop was domesticated for the first time is still a subject of controversy but it is believed that sorghum spent the first 6000 years of its existence in a phase of ignorance as at that time no one knew about the long list of uses it can offer. The cereal crop, once adopted and cultivated, spread across the African continent especially the regions of Egypt and Sudan.

Sorghum marked its entry to the Asian continent in the first millennium when it was brought to India for the first time and then it got popular among the other countries in Asia as well. The weather conditions in the continent suited well for the plantation and it started to get cultivated here. Slave trade in the newly discovered America helped sorghum to get introduced into the new world and from here on it got distributed in the rest of the world. At that time, it was regarded as the food of poor and the slaves were fed on sorghum. With time and increasing popularity, a number of new varieties of the grain were found and many uses were also invented.

Cultivation pattern

Sorghum is a strictly tropical crop that can get hampered even with a slight hint of cold in the weather. The grain thrives on hot and humid weather to survive and is one of the most tolerant crops in context of drought as well as flood. Sorghum is type of plant one can hardly see without seeds, even if there is drought proving to be deadly for all other grain crops. Also, it can handle and grow on a wide range of soil types starting from fertile to less nutrient soils but an effective output largely depends on soil moisture, resistance and porosity. The wide, complex and a fibrous root network of the plant and the fact it competes with most of the weeds help the plant to stand severe drought conditions. The time of plantation of the crop is of utmost importance as an early plantation of the sorghum seed results in a good yield and also a strong, weed less crop. It grows up to a reduced height of 2 to 4 feet, earlier it being 5 to 7 feet, genetically reduced due to harvesting problems.

Like other cereal crops, sorghum is also a very good nitrogen fixing plant that rejuvenates the nutrient content in the soil and thus can also be planted as a secondary crop in crop rotation. Birds, earthworms, aphids and larvae pose a major threat of damage to the crop and several chemicals and pesticides are used to counter them. The plant needs duration of 90 to 120 days for its growing phase and then is usually harvested with combines. After harvesting of the crops and extraction of the grains, they are dried in the sun or by other methods before they are consumed. In India, sorghum is cultivated as both rabi and khariff crops, khariff being the dominator among the two.

Sorghum producing countries

Sorghum is produced mainly for feeding purposes. Due to a very similar nutritional value and growth pattern as of maize, it also serves as a substitute to it. The world production of this cereal grain in 2005-06 was 58.9 million metric tons, the production being stable over a long period of time. The list showing the major global producers of sorghum with their production figures relating to the year 2005-06 is given below

  • United States of America (9847680 metric tons)

  • Nigeria (8028000 metric tons)
  • India (8000000 metric tons)
  • Mexico (6300000 metric tons)
  • Sudan (4228000 metric tons)
  • Argentina (2900000 metric tons)
  • China (2952800 metric tons)
  • Ethiopia (1800000 metric tons)
  • Australia (1748000 metric tons)
  • Brazil (1529600 metric tons)
  • Burkina Faso (1399302 metric tons)
  • Egypt (950000 metric tons)
  • Tanzania (800000 metric tons)
  • Mali (664083 metric tons)
  • Cameroon (600000metric tons)
  • Venezuela (565000 metric tons)
  • Niger (500000 metric tons)
  • Chad (449427 metric tons)
  • Uganda (420000 metric tons)
  • Ghana (399300 metric tons)

The top spot in the list is bagged by the United States though Nigeria is too close to its production figure and is giving a tough competition for the first place. The world acreage of area pertaining to sorghum production sums up to around 440000 square kilometers.

Production of sorghum in India

India has ever been among the major producers of sorghum in the world. The country has been able to maintain its position among the top three producers of the crop. As already mentioned, sorghum is produced both as a summer and a winter crop i.e khariff and rabi crops in the country. Indian production hovers around an average of 9 million metric tons but since last few years a slow downfall in the production as well as in the area covered for sorghum production has been observed. The 2005-06 Indian sorghum production figures were 8 million metric tons. Area wise, India accounts for around 20% of the world total area used for the crop production. The major states in the country where this cereal grain is produced are

  • Maharashtra

  • Karnataka
  • Gujarat
  • Madhya Pradesh
  • Andhra Pradesh
  • Rajasthan
  • Uttar Pradesh

Maharashtra produces the maximum sorghum in India, production being supported by the districts Solapur, Pune, Bijapur, Nanded, Akola and Maboobnagar.

Indian sorghum or jowar market

Sorghum is popularly known as "Jowar" in India. The crop in the country stands at the third place in context of importance after wheat and rice. The grain had been used for consumption of both humans and livestock and also different genes of the plant serve many other important uses. The crop was introduced in India in the first millennium and since then it has been actively cultivated in the subcontinent. The production of sorghum in India reaches up to 9 million metric tons mark each year but last few years have shown a marginal but gradual decline in the production and productivity of the crop. The area under cultivation of the crop too has had a steep decline in the last 15 years i.e. 50% and 25% in the khariff and rabi season respectively.

India also maintains a place in the top ten consumers of sorghum in the world with a 2005-06 consumption figure of 7.7 million metric tons. Indian demand for the grain is on an increase due to the combined increase in the demand of various sectors using sorghum. The rural per capita annual consumption has reduced a bit as compared to the 1961 figure, but still this decline cannot hide sorghum’s national importance. India is capable of satisfying the domestic consumption demand and hence it emerges out to be a net exporter of the crop exporting the balance stocks. In 2005-06, the country made exports of 25000 metric tons of jowar and stood at the 6th position among the world’s major exporters of the world. The exports are expected to rise in the coming time.

Market Influencing Factors

  • Change in taste and preferences
  • Farming system changes
  • Payment of labor involved in the production of sorghum
  • Alternative cropping strategies depending upon the factors like irrigation etc.
  • Demand from fodder industries in the country
Major trading centers of sorghum or jowar

In India, sorghum or jowar is being traded at the following primary markets

  • Akkalkot (Mahrashtra)

  • Mohol (Mahrashtra)
  • Barsi (Mahrashtra)
  • Pandharpur (Mahrashtra)
  • Kurduwadi (Mahrashtra)
  • Mumbai (Mahrashtra)
  • Kolhapur (Mahrashtra)
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