Sorghum Saves

Sorghum has the potential to improve the lives of people around the world and farmers in the U.S. with the development of a new formula created with food aid in mind.

Written by: Hannah Dast

In regions of the world where food insecurity can exceed 50 percent, sorghum is emerging in an inventive way. An alternative to the whole grain sorghum traditionally used in food aid, this new formula has the potential to change the face of sorghum in global food aid.

In 2010, sorghum, along with soy and cowpeas, was used to create a new fortified blended food (FBF) by researchers at Kansas State University for use in international food aid programs. The powdered, dehydrated food can be easily shipped and distributed then mixed with hot water upon distribution to create a porridge-like substance that is high in protein and essential vitamins.

Sorghum is an extremely useful crop in food aid for several reasons. Sajid Alavi, professor and researcher in the Department of Grain Science and Industry at Kansas State University, expanded on the benefits of sorghum, particularly in food aid.

“Sorghum has some very unique benefits,” Alavi said. “For example, it is a very sustainable crop. That’s the story we keep telling. This is a crop which is grown with very low inputs, especially water, for example. And also it is heat tolerant and drought tolerant, so it can grow in very difficult, harsh conditions, relatively speaking, as opposed to other crops. So it becomes, really, a crop you can rely on.”

Another key factor is the crop’s non-GMO properties, Alavi said. Some of the countries most needing food aid have very strict regulations on the import of GMOs. Sorghum, which is not genetically modified in the United States, is a perfect solution to this hurdle.

In 2010 a seed trial was funded with the help of the Sorghum Checkoff and Kansas Grain Sorghum Commission to determine the potential of the product as a legitimate food aid resource. The trial was successful and in 2011 when the United States Department of Agriculture called for food aid project proposals, Kansas State University was first in line.

The project was selected to receive a $5 million grant in order to develop the new product. This allowed for a large field trial in Tanzania with 2,000 participants under the age of five.

“When we focus on children under the age of 5, we can prevent and mitigate diseases, which can affect the current and future generations,” Hope Floeck, tenured expert in food and nutritional programs, said.

Floeck is a former sorghum producer with 25 years of experience in food aid, along with a background in agricultural economics and policy. She serves as a technical adviser for this FBF project through the Collaborative Sorghum Improvement Program based in Manhattan, Kansas.

The field study was conducted in the Bunda district located in the Mara region of Tanzania where half of the population is considered food insecure. Stunted growth, vitamin A deficiency and anemia are common in children affected by food insecurity in the area.

Participants were given enough food for themselves and three members of their family as part of the study. Participants were monitored at 0, 10 and 20 weeks for vitamin A, iron, height, and weight levels to determine the satisfaction of their nutritional needs.

Official results of the study are currently under peer review, but preliminary study successes suggest a promising future for this new potential sorghum market.

By adding this sorghum FBF to food aid options available to the USDA and other organizations, it can provide more opportunities to appeal to cultural preferences, Floeck said. Sorghum is a common crop in the area of Tanzania where the trial was conducted, which makes the product more likely to be easily adopted into the local diet.

The development of this product broadens the basket of choices for the USDA and other food aid organizations, especially in times of commodity price fluctuation. Sorghum can be used as a nutritious and beneficial alternative to typical food aid products.

“It is a new market for farmers while doing good along the way,” Floeck said.

The end goal of the project, Alavi said, is to address hunger and malnourishment around the world while providing value for domestic farmers along with long-term sustainability. Peer reviewed results will soon be presented to the USDA in order to become an approved food aid product.

A stakeholder meeting will take place in late spring 2019 for suppliers, commodity growers, non-profits, policy makers, government agencies and research institutions. For more information on attending or questions about this project, please contact Sajid Alavi at