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An Introduction to Sorghum
Sorghum, more specifically known as grain sorghum, is a part of the grass family "Poaceae"  that grows at the rate of 0.5-5 meters. It is an annual crop whose root system consists of fibrous roots that grow from the lowest nodes of the plant stem at places below and just above the ground level. Grain sorghum is one of the most common forms of crop grown mainly in Africa, Asia and US.

Sorghum is mainly grown for grains and also as an animal feed in the form of fodder. In India, it is known as 'jowar', while in Africa, it is known as 'kafir'. It is resistant to drought and can thus grow very well in dry and barren areas. The term 'sorghum' comes from the Italian term 'sorgo', which in turn came from the Latin 'Syricum (granum)' which literally means 'grain of Syria'.

Origin of Sorghum
The first historical record of the cultivation of sorghum was found in Africa where it was grown in the Savanna land. From here, it was taken to the warm and dry areas of all the continents. It came to India at around 1st millennium BC. Sorghum was then brought to China approximately during the Christian era along the southeast coast of Asia. Grain sorghum got to America from West Africa together with slave traders in the middle of 19th century but its importance in America and later in Australia was recognized only in the 20th century.
Description of Sorghum
Sorghum is the fifth largest crop in the world after rice, maize, wheat and barley. Because it is extremely resistant to drought, it is usually grown in dry and semi-arid parts of the world. India is among the top five producers of sorghum or 'jowar'  as it is popularly known among the Indian farmers. It is an annual crop that grows at a height ranging from 0.5-5 meters. The sorghum plant comprises of fibrous roots that grow from the lowest nodes of the stem.

The highest concentration of roots is in the upper 0.9 meters of the soil but has the capability to extend up to 1.5 meters in lateral spread and is two times that of its depth. Depending upon the cultivar, the sorghum plant contains at least 7 to 24 leaves. These leaves are 30-135 cm long and have a width ranging from 1.5 cm to 13 cm.

Uses of Sorghum
Sorghum is used in many different areas because of its nutritional as well as commercial value. Some of the areas where it is used are:
  • As Food for Human Beings: Since sorghum contains many nutritional additives like protein, iron, calcium, etc. it is widely used as food for human consumption. It is used in the form of porridge, flour, malted & distilled beverage, etc.  
  • As Animal Feed: Sorghum is also used in the form of animal feed for livestock in many parts of the world. It contains almost the same nutritional content as maize, and is thus an ideal source of food for the animals. Because it also contains a high amount of tannins and phenolic acids, which can be harmful for some animals like cattle, it needs to be reprocessed to enable the sorghum grains to be digested by these cattle
  • Commercial Uses: Sorghum also serves a lot of commercial uses. For eg., the stems or fibers of the sorghum plant are used in making wall boards, solvents, bio-degradable packaging materials, fences, etc. Sorghum is also used in making ethanol, adhesives and paper.
Sweet Sorghum
Sweet sorghum is one of the many varieties of sorghum that grows well under warm, dry conditions. It is a cane like plant that contains a large amount of sugar. It is primarily grown for forage, silage, sugar, etc. It came into existence in the early part of the 17th century  by the African slaves in America, where it was used in making sweeteners known as sugar syrup. Sweet sorghum is also known as 'Kadval' or 'Sorgal' and is quite different from the grain sorghum mainly because its stems are much taller and juicier than grain sorghum.

The presence of fermentable sugar in sweet sorghum makes it ideal to produce ethanol, thereby making it one of the preferred forms of raw materials for the production of ethanol. Sweet sorghum is simple to produce and can be ideally grown in warm weather conditions. As compared to sugarcane, it requires less amount of water and fertilizer. Since it also helps in producing foliage, it makes an excellent source of food for the livestock. In some regions, the syrup produced from sweet sorghum is known as 'molasses' or 'sweet molasses', although the term 'molasses' actually refers to the syrup produced from sugarcane.

Health Benefits Associated with Sorghum
Sorghum is a rich source of proteins and important nutrients like iron, calcium, potassium, etc. that are necessary to keep the body healthy. The presence of anti-oxidants in sorghum is believed to have reduced the risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, nerve disorders, etc. Grain sorghum also contains Vitamin B-complex that is also important for the steady growth of living beings. The presence of protein and starch in grain sorghum helps in slow digestion, and this slow digestion is beneficial for patients suffering from diabetes.  For people unable to digest wheat related items, sorghum serves as an excellent replacement, again, because of its excellent digestion capability.

Sorghum Production in India
Sorghum is the third largest crop to be grown in India after wheat and rice. More commonly known as jowar in the Indian sub-continent, it grows well in both summer and winter, and is thus both a rabi and khariff crop. 75% of the cultivated area is devoted to the production of sorghum. Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are some of the regions where sorghum is grown on a massive scale.

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