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close this bookBetter Farming Series 15 - Cereals (FAO - INADES, 1977, 51 p.)
close this folderSorghum and millet
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View the documentSorghum
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Sorghum and millet are very important cereals in savanna country.

They are grown in the same way.

We shall deal with the growing of sorghum and millet together.


Sorghum is a tall cereal, more than 2 metres high.

Its stem has long leaves.

At the top of the stem is the spike.

Sorghum plant

Spike of sorghum

The spike contains the sorghum grains. Their colour is white, black, yellow or red.

Sorghum grows in savanna country that is not too dry. It needs about 1 metre of rain a year.

Sorghum likes light soil that lets rain run through, that is, permeable soil.


Sorghum is sometimes called "great millet" because it has rather large grains.

· There are several very different varieties of sorghum:

· Grain sorghums These are the kind most grown in Africa. They yield grain for human food.

· Sweet sorghums The stem contains a sweet liquid. They are grown in equatorial Africa and Northern Cameroon.

· Broom sorghums These have very large spikes, like a broom.

· Fodder sorghums These are cut when still green for animal feeding.

· Each of these varieties includes several kinds that ripen at different times.

· Early sorghums ripen 80 to 110 days after sowing.

· Medium early sorghums ripen 115 to 130 days after sowing

· Medium late sorghums ripen 130 to 145 days after sowing.

· Late sorghums ripen about 190 days after sowing.

Some kinds of sorghum are preferred for human food, others for making beer.


Millet is a tall cereal, more than 2 metres high.

Its stem has long leaves. At the top of the stem is the spike.

It is not like the spike of sorghum.

The spike contains the millet grains. They are smaller than sorghum grains. They are white or red in colour

· Millet grows in very dry regions north of the savanna. It even grows where the rainfall is only 300 millimetres a year.

Millet likes light, sandy and permeable soils.

Millet plant


Different names for millet are bulrush millet, pearl millet, Japanese millet, broomcorn millet.

· There are a great many varieties of millet. They have different names in different countries, for instance: in Senegal: Souna, Sanio; in northern Cameroon: Youri, Yadiri; in Chad: Dokone.

· The different kinds of millet are distinguished by the length of the spike.

· Varieties with a long spike

In Niger there is Rongo, with spikes that may be more than 2 metres long, and Somno, with spikes 80 centimetres long.

These varieties are usually late ones that ripen 120 to 150 days after sowing.

· Varieties with medium or cylindrical spikes

The length of the spike is about 40 centimetres.

They are harvested about 100 days after sowing.

· Varieties with short spikes

For instance, in Niger,
Batoutchani has spikes of 6 centimetres,

Boudouma, spikes of 10 to 20 centimetres.

These are usually early varieties.

They ripen 60 to 90 days after sowing.


· Sorghum and millet have fibrous roots.

How to grow sorghum and millet

To be well nourished and resist dryness, sorghum and millet need well- developed roots.

The roots of sorghum and millet are thin. They are not strong enough to penetrate hard earth, soil that is much compacted, and clods. They must have fine, well- loosened soil, without clods.

After tilling, break up the clods with a harrow or large branches drawn by an animal.

If the soil is not deep, make little mounds or ridges.

· The place of sorghum in crop rotation

It is best to sow sorghum after growing another crop such as groundnuts or cotton.

If sorghum is grown after groundnuts or cotton, it will use the remainder of the mineral salts added for these industrial crops.


Selected your seed.

You can keep the seed from the best spikes of your own harvest. Dry them, sort them and store them well, protect them against insects and diseases.

You can also buy seed of improved varieties from research stations.

Some varieties are harvested about 100 days after sowing. These varieties are sown in regions where the rainy season is short.

Other varieties are harvested 150 to 190 days after sowing. These varieties are sown in regions where the rainy season is longer.
Sow at the beginning of the rainy season. Sow in rows, and leave 80 to 100 centimetres between rows. Put 4 to 10 seeds in each seed hole, and leave 40 to 60 centimetres between seed holes. Push the seed 2 centimetres into the soil.


Weed the field two weeks after sowing.

In seed holes where the seeds have not grown, new seed can be sown, or seedlings can be transplanted. Take them from seed holes where all the seeds have grown.

In seed holes where all the seeds have grown, take out the smallest seedlings. It is better to have fewer but finer plants with bigger spikes. Then there will be more grain.

When the plants are 50 centimetres high, weed again.

At the same time, earth up the plants. After earthing up, new roots will grow.


When the grain is ripe, do not wait too long before harvesting sorghum and millet. If you wait too long, birds may eat a lot of the grain.

After harvesting, you can thresh the spikes and store the sorghum and millet grain. But you can also store the spikes with the grain in them.

Supplementary Note

Growing sorghum in the dry season

In countries such as Niger, Cameroon and Chad, sorghum is sown along rivers and streams and by the side of lakes at the end of the rainy season.

When the rain stops, the water subsides along the river banks and lake sides, but the soil, which is rather clayey, retains water and remains moist. Sorghum is then sown on this moist earth. The sorghum grows during the dry season by taking up the water that remains in the soil. The sorghum becomes ripe during or at the end of the dry season. Thus, there is a sorghum harvest just before the hungry season.

Sorghum can also be started in nurseries. The seed is sown on a little plot which is watered. At the end of the rainy season when the water subsides, the young sorghum plants are lifted and transplanted to river banks or lake sides. The sorghum ripens in the middle of the dry season.

Sorghum grown during the dry season is called Berbere in Chad and Mouskouari in northern Cameroon.

Supplementary Note

Sorghum for animal feeding

When young sorghum plants are still green, they may be fed to animals.

But you must be very careful, because sorghum may contain a poison. The quantity of poison in the plants is not always the same. It differs according to the age of the plants, the variety, the soil, the climate.

Sometimes when you have cut the green sorghum, some plants may produce new stems. These new growths contain a lot of poison.

So take good care before giving green sorghum to animals.

The animals can be fed sorghum by putting them in the field where it is growing, or by giving it to them as hay or as silage.

Never give the new growths to animals.

· Feeding animals in the fields

Animals are let into the field when the spikes of sorghum begin to ripen.

· Making sorghum hay

To make hay, cut the sorghum plants when the spikes have come out of the stem. Leave the stems and leaves to dry.

Because of the poison, you must wait two months before giving this hay to animals.

· Making silage

To make silage, cut the sorghum plants when the spikes are well formed, but before the grains have become hard. Then wait two months before giving the silage to animals.

Never make silage with new growths of sorghum.

There are some varieties of sorghum that are grown only as fodder. These varieties are very good for making silage.