Lupane (New Ziana) – Lupane State University (LSU) is conducting research on the potential of sweet sorghum (mapfunde/amabele) to be an alternative to sugarcane.
Sorghum and sugarcane are two different plants, both in the grass family, and both of which produce something sweet from the juice that is pressed from their canes.
Sugar cane juice can be refined and processed to produce sugar crystals while sorghum cane, until recently, could not be used to yield crystalline sugar.
Dean of the LSU Faculty of Agricultural Sciences Dr Mcebisi Maphosa said the university had recently acquired a hand machine to crush the cane and extract juice from the crop.
For centuries sorghum has been treated as an orphan crop (usually grown by women on small pieces of land) and used for brewing traditional beer while its sweet stalk is eaten as a snack.
It is the fifth major staple cereal after wheat, rice, maize and barley.
Sorghum is cultivated worldwide in warmer climates and is an important food crop in semi-arid tropical areas of Africa, Asia and Central America.
Dr Maphosa said all along the seasonal crop has been considered of very little value as it was traditionally consumed as a snack in the autumn season when it thrives.
He said the LSU was seeking to change these perceptions by proving that there was much more to the crop than was commonly known.
Dr Maphosa said communities could make significant gains by commercialising the crop upon discovering its full potential.
The research team has so far discovered that multiple products could be extracted from the sweet sorghum, including a delicious juice that can be used as a beverage, syrup (which can be an alternative to sugar) and black strap molasses while remaining chaff can be used as stock feed.
“We want to partner with farmers so that they grow the crop and sell to us and we will process it into the different products,” said Dr Maphosa.