An Overview and Economic Assessment of Sorghum Improvement in Mali
December 2, 2014 - Author: Melinda Smale, Alpha Kergna, Amidou Assima, Eva Weltzien, and Fred Rattunde
IDWP 137. Melinda Smale, Alpha Kergna, Amidou Assima, Eva Weltzien, and Fred Rattunde. 2014. An Overview and Economic Assessment of Sorghum Improvement in Mali
Sorghum is one of the world’s most important cereals in terms of total production. Grown
largely as livestock feed in the US, sorghum is a primary food staple and source of cash for
smallholder farming families in the West African savannah. The dominant type of sorghum
produced in this region is the Guinea race, which has unique traits that enable it to adapt well
to irregular, uncertain rainfall conditions and resist endemic pests.
Sorghum occupies a central role in the agricultural economy of Mali, although less so than it
did at independence in terms of total volume and value produced since rice and maize have
gained in terms of cropped area and diet with urbanization, irrigation schemes, and the cotton
commercialization. Maize is grown primarily in rotation with cotton, where growing
conditions are favorable, and producers benefit from support services that provide fertilizer
and high-yielding seed.
More recently, the global food-price crisis in 2008 and ensuing political and economic
insecurity have contributed to vacillation in sorghum area planted. A constraint to sorghum
commercialization in Mali (and thus to incentives for farmers to adopt certified seed), is that
while there is a strong demand in local markets, there is no organized marketing or trade
association because sorghum continues to be viewed as a subsistence crop. Moreover, given
the cultural and historical importance of sorghum in this region, farmers have not been
accustomed to purchasing certified seed and sourced seed most frequently from their own
harvests or other farmers. The formal seed system for sorghum seed was state-managed and
its reach in rural areas limited to extension services.
Sorghum remains crucial in the rural economy and diets of rural households (second in
consumption to millet), and is grown in every agroecology of Mali except the driest, Sahelian
zone at the border of the Sahara desert. Raising sorghum productivity has been a major
policy goal since the Sahelian droughts of the 1970s-1980s, when national and international
research systems accelerated efforts to enhance sorghum productivity, including the
introduction of exotic germplasm. Since then, studies show that adoption rates for improved
sorghum seed have gradually risen.
In this study, we review contextual information and past adoption studies, updating an earlier
in-depth analysis by Yapi et al. (2000). The study by Yapi et al. (2000), which was also
commissioned by ICRISAT, led to directional changes in Mali’s sorghum improvement
program. Germplasm developed today in Mali encompasses a range of types that combine
Guinea-race and exotic materials; the first Guinea-race sorghum hybrids were introduced in
2009 for testing by farmers.
Few studies have systematically assessed the adoption of improved sorghum varieties on a
large geographical scale in Mali. As part of this study, we conducted a census of sorghum
varieties grown in 60 villages in the high-potential, sorghum-producing zone of the Sudan
Savannah, where the national and international breeding programs have introduced materials.
We then analyzed the returns to research investment in an ex post, economic surplus
About four-fifths of all farmers in the 58 villages grew sorghum. Enumerators asked farmers
to identify all sorghum varieties grown over the previous five years. Farmers named 136
varieties of sorghum that could be identified by trait and type by technicians and breeders.
Within this time frame, adoption rates varied considerable across villages, from nearly zero to
over 80% of farmers. During these years, the percentage of area planted to improved
varieties, especially sorghum hybrids, increased. All improved varieties and hybrids
represented 28% of sorghum area in 2013. It is important to recognize that many of these are
new materials that replaced older improved materials, and some of those classified by farmers
as local, and given local names, could be advanced generations of improved germplasm.
The changing role of women in sorghum production has emerged in recent studies and is a
subject of upcoming research. Use rates for improved varieties and hybrids do not differ
meaningfully between men and women plot managers. However, women represent only
about 10% of sorghum plot managers, and women’s plots are on average less than half the
size of men’s. Adoption rates are clustered by farm family, suggesting that intra-household
decision-making is a key consideration in technology uptake.
There are also indications of increasing cash purchase of seed—though modes of acquisition
continue to have a socially-based, community locus. It is noteworthy that organized visits (by
outsiders, such as ICRISAT scientists) were not important routes of acquisition.
Assuming only a 21% yield advantage and a ceiling adoption rate of 33% of national
sorghum area, the rate of return to investment in sorghum improvement in Mali since 1997 is
estimated at 25%, with six dollars earned for every dollar invested. Each year, on average,
20,000 persons are estimated to have crossed the $1 poverty line as a result of higher
sorghum productivity. Increasing the yield advantage to 31%, with no change in other
parameters, generates an internal rate of return of nearly 60% and a benefit-cost ratio of 63:1.
Across a broad range of management conditions on farmers’ fields, the estimated average
yield advantage associated with newly released sorghum hybrids is 30%. These estimates
compare favorably with the more conservative estimates generated in other global studies,
and should be understood as a lower bound on our overall estimates of gains from Mali’s
sorghum improvement program.