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Three Mutant Varieties of Sorghum Introduced in Indonesia Hold Promise for Food Security

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(Photo: Ljupcho Jankuloski/FAO-IAEA)

Although still regarded as a minor crop in Indonesia, sorghum holds great promise for the country’s food security. A grain crop, it sustains people and feeds animals. It also grows well in poor soils of hot, drought-prone areas, which is often the situation in Indonesia. In 2015, the Indonesian National Atomic Energy Agency (BATAN), with the support of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division, introduced new mutant varieties of grain sorghum to the country’s farmers: one variety was developed for consumption and one to be processed into flour as a commercial food ingredient.

It’s been thousands of years since sorghum was first domesticated in northeastern Africa. Over the millennia,  it has spread around the world becoming a staple crop for millions of the world’s poorest and most food insecure people, while also becoming the world’s fifth major cereal in terms of production and acreage. In Indonesia, smallholder farmers grow traditional sorghum varieties but never considered it a major crop. However, now with the introduction of new mutant varieties developed specifically for the Indonesian environmental reality, it has great potential to become a much more important contributor to the agricultural sector.

As a crop, sorghum produces grains that are high in fibre, iron and protein, but low in fat and cholesterol. In addition, all of its parts are utilized. The grains are for human consumption or can be processed into starch. Sugars in sweet sorghum stalks can become liquid sugar or syrup, the stalk fibres can be processed into pulp, paper or construction materials, and the stem waste and leaves becomes feed for poultry and small ruminants. Combining its array of uses with the fact that sorghum can grow in Indonesia’s drought-prone east or in the acid soils of the western part of the country, indicates why BATAN’s Center for Isotope and Radiation Application (CIRA) and the Joint Division joined to support sorghum’s potential in Indonesia.

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