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Sorghum is Africa’s second most important cereal because it is the primary source of daily calories for 300 million sub-Saharan Africans. For Kenyan farmers, sorghum is also one of the few crops that grows well under local conditions because it is naturally drought- and heat-tolerant. Given its importance as a staple crop and ease of farming, plant scientists are now developing sorghum crops with enhanced nutritional content to improve the health of millions of people.
Sorghum farmer Dorothy Warubua says sorghum is an important part of daily life. “We all grow sorghum to feed our families and our neighbors. Sorghum porridge is very good for children!” she says. But while sorghum provides a significant amount of carbohydrates, it has very little vitamin A content. Vitamin A deficiency is prevalent in the developing world and can have devastating consequences to children, leading to blindness and other vision problems, as well as developmental and growth problems.
Since sorghum is already an essential part of the local diet, it’s a great candidate for nutritional improvements. Plant scientist Dr. Titus Magomere is part of the African Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) Project developing nutrient-improved sorghum. “We are using biotechnology to introduce genes into the sorghum plant that can help increase vitamin A content. So far, we are seeing some good success. The crops resulting from our research won’t change the way farmers farm their land, but they will have a significant impact of the health of the population,” he says.