Sesame, Sesamum indicum L, member of the family Pedaliaceae, is
probably the most ancient oilseed used by man and originates from the Ethiopian
area. It occurs as numerous species and is locally known under a variety of
names, such as gingerly and til in India, sim-sim in Arab countries and East
Africa and benniseed in Nigeria.
Figure 7: Sesame. (a) shoot top with
flowers' (b) ripe capsules.
Source: S.Rehm, G. Espig, 1984, p. 1 02
Sesame is considered a crop of the tropics and subtropics and
normally requires fairly hot conditions, with temperatures around 26°C
encouraging rapid germination, initial growth and flower formation. In altitudes
below 1250 m, sesame's main distribution is between 250 north and south of the
equator, but it can be found further north in China, Russia and the USA and
further south in Australia and South America. Optimal rainfall is 500 to 650 mm
per year, but since the crop is reasonably drought resistant it can also be
planted in relatively arid zones with annual rainfalls as low as 300 mm.
World production of sesame seed has been almost static for 20
years, at 2.4 million tons per year (see Table 1) and almost exclusively
originates in developing countries. Major producers are China, India, Burma and
Tanzania (in that order for 1985). A large proportion of the sesame seed
harvested is, however, neither marketed nor exported but consumed by local
producers and therefore often does not appear in statistics for home production.
This is particularly true in Africa, where sesame is grown from north to south,
but often in such small plots that it is impossible to calculate the total,
large though it may be. It is estimated that only 10 % of the total production
enters world trade in sesame seed, the largest exporters being China, the Sudan
and Mexico, the largest importers Japan, USA and Hong Kong.
Although reaching as high as 2 tons per ha (in Yugoslavia),
average yields are only 350 kg of seeds per ha, because sesame is mostly
cultivated in arid regions with poor soils. The average seed composition is 45
to 50 % (highly valued) oil and between 19 to 25 % protein. Sesame seed is
relatively sensitive to mechanical damage, and even minor damage at threshing
can result in an immediate loss of the viability of the oil extraction