Sorghum consumption is not only falling in South Africa, but across the African continent

Sorghum consumption is not only falling in South Africa, but across the African continent

We have been hearing a lot about the change in consumer preference, with some people preferring what is perceived as healthier diets. But sorghum, which is nutritious, has not taken off, at least in the African continent. Its consumption per capita has been falling over the past few decades as shown in Figure 1 below (focus on the orange line).

Figure 1: Africa’s grains per capita consumption (look at the sorghum line)
Source: CABRI, FAO


Here at home (South Africa), sorghum per capita consumption was estimated at 1.62 kilograms per year in 2018, down by 16% from the year 2000. To be fair, this has not been solely a sorghum story, as South Africa’s maize per capita consumption has also fallen by 15% over the same period to about 77.32 kilograms in 2018. But the maize story is somewhat different, while per capita consumption has declined over the recent past, overall maize usage continues to increase due to demand from the animal products, and South Africa also enjoys a good standing in global agricultural markets.

This is not the case for sorghum. South Africa’s overall sorghum usage was estimated at 159 037 tonnes in the 2018/19 marketing year, down by 45% from 1999/00 marketing year. South Africa’s sorghum exports have also declined over time as traditional markets such as Botswana — see figure 2 below — started to increase their domestic production.

Figure 2: South Africa’s sorghum exports to Botswana
Source: Agbiz Research, ITC


These worrying trends (specifically figure 2) have invariably had a negative impact on sorghum production in South Africa, and farmers are starting to switch to relatively more profitable crops. Now, sorghum is an ancestral crop to Africa, which means the continent should do more to promote it and elevate its standing amongst consumers. Otherwise, the current declining trend might continue for some time.

My previous piece on sorghum:

Can SA’s stagnating sorghum industry be revived? Click here to read.

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