SMIL develops new sorghum hybrids to improve nutrition and food security in Ethiopia
The functionality of sorghum in commercial grain-based food products through the development of highly digestible (IHD) sorghum lines has been evaluated and developed through the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum and Millet (SMIL) global research program for the last seven years.
Due to its affordability and availability, sorghum is a common staple for injera, an Ethiopian authentic flatbread. However, physical and production constraints show sorghum’s limitation in competing with teff in making injera.
Dr. Joseph Awika, the principal investigator of the SMIL research project and professor at Texas A&M University, said, “This research is focused on improving functional properties of mainly cereal grains to enhance their functionality for human health and nutrition. Sorghum has the potential to influence climate change and offers a major staple for food consumption. We work on ensuring we can make good quality products that appeal to humans and also their health.”
New sorghum hybrids under development combine high protein digestibility (HPD) mutations with waxy and heterodoxy (WX/HX) starch traits in hard endosperm to showcase various concepts of functionality and nutritional quality. Within SMIL, Awika’s research project continues to develop quality grain sorghum processing and utilization attributes.
William Rooney, a researcher on the SMIL project and professor at Texas A&M University, has focused much of his career on grain forage improvement, biomass sorghum and bio-energy sorghum through genetic improvement. Rooney, cohort in the research project, shared, “I believe the next step in sorghum improvement is the application of genomic and phenomic selection. If that can be accomplished with appropriate traits, I think a significant increase in productivity will be extended. For me, everything is about improving the process using traits.”
Three valuable outcomes of the research project have been from genetic improvement:
Currently, improved highly digestible (IHD) sorghum lines are being tested in Ethiopia's high- and low-input environments to evaluate value chain and customer expectations. The research project team believes that the demonstrations will increase local demand for breeding and seeding needs.
To test results and produce consistency, 11 industry partners joined the research project team and found HD sorghums resulted in stronger gels compared with their competitors in the cooking process due to lower water separation during the first week of storage than the wild type.
Another factor the team considered is the impact of each milling process in product functionality.
“We have hammer, pin, and disc milling, and these are the types of milling used in the European market,” said Dr. Abadi Mezgebe, a researcher on the project. “We also consider the traditional and conventional milling types, and with these four types of milling, we want to find out which milling technology produces the better product quality. Then we can invest in that or give the engineers information to design a milling system to fit the product.”
“In many African countries, especially in drought-prone areas, sorghum is critical in food security. If we can fix the production side, I believe there’s already a market waiting for a product made from sorghum that is better than what you can get from rice or maize.”
Currently, the research project team is working with three factories to help incorporate the milling research.
“In many African countries, especially in drought-prone areas, sorghum is critical in food security,” summarized Awika. “If we can fix the production side, I believe there’s already a market waiting for a product made from sorghum that is better than what you can get from rice or maize.”
Dr. Alemu Tirfessa, director of Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR) and lead for the Sorghum Improvement Program in Ethiopia, said, “We need to work on improving sorghum production and productivity and creating a straightforward strategy to support the system in the country that can’t be done by scientists alone.”
Thus, partnering with seed companies is the next strategy to help fill the gap, and Tirfessa is leading the collaborative efforts at a local level.
Tirfessa and his team have ongoing collaborations on a number of sorghum research projects. These projects include working on disease-resistant varieties, developing high-functionality sorghum hybrids and working to develop high-yielding, drought-tolerant hybrids.
“In southern Ethiopia, the soil, nutrients and fertility are incredibly low. It is an arid region with low rainfall and that’s why they plant sorghum as one of their main crops,” said Mr. Tuma Ayele, Director of the Agricultural Research Center in Arba Minch. “In order to keep up with the drought, farmers sow sorghum as an opportunity to keep up with food security even in undesirable conditions.”
For more information on the sorghum functionality and quality development for food applications, visit https://smil.k-state.edu/protein-sorghum.