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  International Fund for Agricultural Development

Farmer Participatory Testing of Technologies to Increase Sorghum and Pearl Millet Production in the Sahel

Technical Assistance Grant (TAG) Information
TAG Number: 442
Grant Amount: USD 1 500 000
Countries: Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Niger and Nigeria
Implementing organizations: International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT); Institute for the Environment and Agricultural Research (INERA), Burkina Faso; Food Research Institute (FRI), Ghana Rural Development Institute IER, Mali; National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRAN), Niger; Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Nigeria; NGOs
Grant type: Agricultural Research Grant
Duration: Three years
Grant approval: April 1999
Starting date: September 1999
Closing date: December 2002


Sorghum and pearl millet are staple food crops across the sahelian agro-ecological belt of West and Central Africa and are grown by millions of resource-poor, mainly subsistence, farmers. Both crops are genetically adapted to the harsh drought-prone sahelian environment and are capable of producing grain and fodder where few other crops can even survive. Besides providing food for humans and feed for livestock, sorghum and millet stems are used for a wide range of purposes, including: the construction of walls, fences and thatches; and production of brooms, mats, baskets, fish-traps, sun shades, etc. They are also used as fuel and as a soil additive to improve its fertility. Some varieties of sorghum can be “malted” to produce a nutritious foodstuff for infants and for use in bakery products. Malted sorghum can be also used in small-scale traditional beer production, an important income-earning activity for village women.

Population pressure and declining soil fertility in the Sahel is having a negative impact on sorghum and millet production. Higher productivity, pest resistance and better grain quality is needed. Some improved varieties exist but their use is very limited as they are either unknown to the farmers or their seeds are unavailable. In some countries, especially Ghana and Nigeria, surplus sorghum available, over and above family food requirements is used for malting and processing. In such circumstances, “dual purpose” sorghum varieties, suitable for both food and malting, could be grown; and surplus grain could be sold for malting to generate cash income. The use of locally-produced sorghum-malt is developing quickly in both Ghana and Nigeria but processors find it difficult to obtain reliable quantities of suitable grain.

Grant purpose

  • To increase the production of sorghum and pearl millet in the Sahel and thereby contributing to the alleviation of rural hunger;
  • To improve the quality of varieties of sorghum and pearl millet in the sahelian agro-ecological belt;
  • To improve the quality of varieties of sorghum and pearl millet by strengthening seed multiplication;
  • To remove the main constraints on widespread adoption of improved varieties of sorghum and pearl millet by developing better seed distribution systems.

Specific objective:

  • To undertake on-farm technology development and testing in order to establish sustainable farmer participatory seed production systems.


  • Development and refining of technology options to improve sorghum and pearl millet;
  • Development and testing of integrated pest management (IPM) procedures to combat, inter alia, panicle and shoot pests of sorghum and millet, downy mildew and Striga spp.;
  • Testing and validation of existing and new varieties of sorghum and pearl millet, using farmer-participatory techniques;
  • Multiplication of significant seed; quantities of varieties most likely to be adopted by farmers



The programme is on going, and significant recent results include:

  • Over 90 tons of sorghum and millet seeds were produced across the five countries. At a rate of 5 Kg ha-¹, these can cover about 18 000 ha of land. A total of 172 farmers and 96 technicians were trained in seed production in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.
  • Participatory on-farm testing of improved varieties in Southwest Burkina Faso revealed high yielding varieties capable of outyielding the local varieties by 85%. In Niger, despite the effect of severe drought on agricultural production, farmers appreciated the hybrid NAD1 for it earliness and high yield potential (u to 2 t ha-¹).
  • On-farm applications of improved soil fertility management technologies, based on locally available sources of organic matter and supplemented with mineral fertilizers, significantly increased sorghum and millet production in Mali and Niger. For instance at Tillabery, Niger, the use of manure increased sorghum production by 80%. At Koulikoro, Mali, the combined use of manure and Tilemsi Natural Phosphate ( a local source of phosphorus) increased sorghum production by 62%. At Segou, Mali, the use of manure supplemented with DAP ( di-ammonium phosphate) increased sorghum and millet production by 40%.
  • In Mali, farmer participatory trials on sorghum head bug control showed that the alternative host plant management associated with resistant sorghum varieties reduced had bug damage by above 60% and increased sorghum yields by 25%. In addition, varieties resistant to sorghum midge were identified in Niger and to head bug in Mali.
  • Activities on sorghum processing for malting and brewing were carried out in Nigeria and Ghana. Three varieties were found promising for malting and brewing in Ghana and six in Nigeria. A new cooking technology was developed in Nigeria to help local processors become more efficient.
  • The socio-economic characterization study in Mali showed that farmers are aware of the importance of soil fertility, viewing organic and inorganic fertilizers as complements. Policies or institutions likely to stimulate farmers’ experiments with fertilizer are likely to increase its uptake, for example, the sale of small (1 Kg) packs.
  • Local village sorghum and millet seed systems work relatively well especially for low value crops such as sorghum and millet. The main constraints to adoption are poor access to information and lack of seed of improved varieties.


Links to other IFAD projects

Zone Lacustre Development Project - Phase II, Mali.

Sokoto State Agricultural and Community Development Project, Nigeria.

Rural Finance and Community Initiatives Project, Gambia.

Rural development project at Aguie, Niger


Links to related research results:

International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics

ICRISAT Publication: Approche participative d’évaluation des technologies pour l’augmentation de la production du mil et du sorgho au Sahel

Technical Advisory Notes (TANs)

No TANs are yet available, but technical notes are included in the following documents:


- Farmer Participatory Testing of Technologies to Increase Sorghum and Millet Production in the Sahel. Progress Report (May 2001 - May 2002) and Annual Work Plans and Budgets for 2002 – 2003. (pdf file)

- Approche participative d’évaluation des technologies pour l’augmentation de la production du mil et du sorgho au Sahel Rapport d’activité annuel (Mai 2000-Mai 2001) Plans annuels d’activité et Budgets pour 2001-2002. (pdf file)

- Improving Income and Food Supply in the Sahel L’amélioration des revenus et la sécurité alimentaire au Sahel. ICRISAT/IFAD. (pdf file)
Brochures ((pdf files)

- Soil Fertility Management in West Africa: Exploring Farmers Perceptions and Practices.

- Understanding the Dynamics of Local Seed Supply in West Africa.

- Catalyzing Village Seed Enterprises in Mali.

- Sparking Farmer Participatory Seed Production in West Africa.

- From Crops to Shops: Creating A Sustainable Marketing Channel for Sorghum.

- Promoting Farmer Friendly Ways to Control Sorghum Head Bug in Mali.

- Boosting Sorghum Processing and Industrial Use in Ghana and Nigeria.

- Enhancing Crop Production and Partnership in West Africa through NARS/ICRISAT/IFAD project.

- Amélioration de la production agricole et renforcement du partenariat en Afrique de l’Ouest a travers le projet SNRA/ICRISAT/FIDA.


Dr. Ousmane Youm
Regional Co-ordinator
International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT)
BP 320 Bamako, Mali
Tel: (223) 223375
Fax: (223) 228683
E-mail: o.youm@cgiar.org

Contact in IFAD
Dr. Douglas Wholey
Technical Adviser (Agronomist)
Technical Advisory Division, IFAD, Rome.