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It is important to produce high-quality, low sulfur biofuel without sacrificing food for people. Sweet sorghum not only produces clean-burning biofuel, but every part of the plant can be put to good use by farmers to feed their families, their livestock, and to earn income.

35 million - Number of hectares in Asia and Africa suitable for sweet sorghum production

40-50 - Liters of ethanol produced from one ton of sweet sorghum stalks

40-50 tons - Amount of sweet sorghum stalks that can be produced from one hectare of land

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Photo: ICRISATT
Sweet sorghum  (Sorghum bicolor  L. Moench)  - like all sorghum plants – originated in Africa and is valued by farmers for its ability to grow in hot, dry climates. An estimated 35 million hectares of land in Asia and Africa   – an area equal in size to the Turkish Republic – are suitable for growing sweet sorghum, including large tracts of degraded soils where little else will grow. What makes sweet sorghum so noteworthy is its abundant sugar content; sugars that are easily converted to ethanol. 

New sweet sorghum cultivars are now being grown in South Asia, China, Mexico and the Philippines, but are also suited for Africa's dryland areas where food and fuel are often in short supply.

Unlike other biofuel crops such as maize, growing sweet sorghum does not come at the expense of producing food. Every part of the plant is harvested and put to use. That means that farmers can use it to produce food for their families, feed and fodder for their animals and, at the same time, contribute to their country’s domestic energy production. Growing sweet sorghum hybrids can also mean a big boost in cash income.   

How does sweet sorghum compare with other biofuel crops? Studies show that new hybrids varieties grow three times faster than sugarcane, use half the water of maize and produce a high-quality, low-sulfur and lead ethanol. Sweet sorghum ethanol is also carbon neutral, which means it does not contribute to global climate change.  

They're called smart crops for a reason. Farmers who grow them will tell you that they not only produce clean-burning biofuel, but that one way or another every part of the plant can be put to good use. That’s important not only for farmers and consumers, but for the environment.

Scientists in the semi-arid tropics have been working on energy-producing crops for many years. The research has focused on plants such as Jatropha and Pongamia, but of late they’ve been focusing on a plant called sweet sorghum.

A commercial sweet sorghum ethanol distillery, located in Andhra Pradesh, India. One ton of sweet sorghum stalks will yield 40-50 liters. 
Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT
Long used as livestock fodder and silage (fermented fodder), sweet sorghum stalks can also be crushed to extract juice for ethanol production. The leftover crushed stalks (called "bagasse") can be used as livestock feed.
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