Ceylon Agro Industries revives miracle crop in Sri Lanka

Some decades ago, a miracle crop made its debut in Sri Lanka but failed to gain a stronghold. However, this crop found ready acceptance across Asia, Africa and Australia where it continues to be cultivated across extensive tracts. It has become the staple diet in some parts of India and many African countries, as well as for achoholic beverages like gluten free beer and Chinese Gaoliang and Maotai Wine, as well for feed grain for livestock.

It is none other than the sun loving Sorghum. The reasons for its popularity are varied considering it is a hardy crop, able to thrive under diverse climatic and soil conditions. More importantly, it is most suited to the hot, dry and arid districts of the country and requires less water than even maize. It is better able to survive drought conditions where it remains dormant for some time and re grow when moisture is available. Due to the vigorous and deep root system it develops, it is able to extract water from deep soils. Most varieties can be harvested in as little as 90 to 110 days. With good management, yields of 4 mt/ hectare are possible which is equal to the yields of corn.

Bringing it back into prominence is Ceylon Agro Industries Ltd, a member of the Prima Group in Sri Lanka, which is keen on boosting the food and feed grain production and bringing in more income to farmers including livestock farmers across the country.

Sorghum is a good source of nutrients and fibre. Towards this the company has unearthed the fact that Sri Lankan foods like rotti, string hoppers and pittu made with a fifty-fifty mix of Sorghum and wheat flour can be tastefully prepared. Sorghum can be mixed with white rice to make kiribath. It is a healthy complement to rice and wheat flour.

This crop is also cultivated extensively in the US and Australia, besides the Indian Subcontinent and Africa and Central Americas as feed grain for livestock substituting maize, as a good source of energy and fibre in feed formulations.

In Sri Lanka, its relevance has never been more suitable because while being affordable, sorghum can be cultivated on the uplands during Maha both in dry, arid as well as in the intermediate zones of the country. In the Yala season, supplementary irrigation may be needed depending on the rainfall received. There is also the potential to fit in sorghum soon after the Maha crop is harvested on the upland chena lands as a "meda" crop, to catch the inter monsoon rains. Currently, though some farmers plant gingelly as a cash crop, a vast extent of these lands lies fallow, for more than six months till the next Maha. These lands can be better utilized, instead of fallowing for planting of a sorghum crop to give an additional source of income to chena farmers.

According to M.Z Caffoor, Agronomist and Senior Business Manager- Agriculture of the Company, the Field Crops Research & Development Institute at Maha Illuppallama which conducted trial plantings of potential varieties for yield and pathological evaluations, and have now recommended some high yielding varieties suitable for growing in Sri Lanka. A limited quantity of seed has been imported by the company and would be available for growing by farmers this Yala season under a package similar to that offered by the company for maize.The company offers technical service and training, financial arrangement with established banks, and guaranteed buy-back at the same floor price as maize to interested and qualified farmers to promote cultivation of this crop.

It’s time we took Sorghum more seriously and spread its multiple benefits to farmers and increase food production in the country in line with the Government policy. After all Sorghum is the 5th largest crop in the world and the 3rd widely cultivated crop in India. Let’s discover its numerous benefits and reap a bounty of rewards for the nation.

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