As the curtains came down on an impeccable three-day Africa Biennial Biosciences Communication (ABBC) symposium on August 24, 2023, generous helpings of sorghum meals went up onto tables everywhere.

Fatigued delegates turned on the mood once again to celebrate The Sorghum Festival, an extra-ordinary session held in the form of a refreshing cocktail gala, as they sampled a whole array of sorghum snacks, cocktails and pastries under the floodlights.

In the ensuing enjoyment, it was a moment to, alongside savouring the greatness of sorghum, build a case for it.

Dr Margaret Karembu, the Principal Investigator, Striga Smart Sorghum for Africa project, called upon delegates to “strive to de-orphanize sorghum, our indigenous crop that comes with a lot of value for our farmers.”

“Sorghum is largely a woman’s crop; and therefore, putting more investment in improving it means we reduce the drudgery of weeding by women thus empowering them to feed their families and earn more income,” she said.

In unison, industries, researchers and entrepreneurs exhibited various sorghum-based initiatives and products that address the challenge of climate change and food and nutrition security in Africa

While it barely receives any praise of note, sorghum serves as a staple food security crop for millions of people worldwide, particularly in Africa and Asia. It is also used as animal feed and in the production of biofuels.

But it is hunted down by Striga, an invasive, parasitic weed that ravages sorghum crops.

The participants were told about the Feed the Future Striga Smart Sorghum for Africa (SSSfA) project, a new public-private partnership project that utilizes genome-editing technology to develop new sorghum varieties resistant to Striga.

Striga is responsible for devastating losses in yields in Africa’s staple cereals, the participants heard.

“Striga infests about 100,000 hectares of land and causes 30 percent to 100 percent yield losses in crops; the losses amount to more than US$ 7 billion per year,” noted Prof Steven Runo, the Co-Principal Investigator, Striga Smart Sorghum for Africa project.

As they enjoyed the delicacies derived out of sorghum, in their varieties both as food and drink, there was a general sense of reflection of the importance of sorghum for improved food security and better livelihoods.

And where doubts could have lingered on the potential of sorghum outside academic discourse, sorghum farmers and traders comprehensively outlined the benefits the crop has had on them, and on societies.

“At Julinza Food Processors, we bring together sorghum farmers and produce sorghum products such as pilau (a popular East African ‘rice’ dish), chapati (unleavened flatbread) and cakes. Our income flow has been rising thanks to increased demand of value-added sorghum products. Farmers are excited about this crop,” said Linah Judy Nzambia, a sorghum farmer and Director at Julinza Food Processors.

As they dispersed into the night’s stillness, participants probably still had the taste of sorghum in their mouths and a fresh revelation of its great value in their minds. United against the enemy Striga, probably they had a new resolve, to strangle this intruder who could threaten the reoccurrence of such remarkable evenings.