Smart crops are the way of the future and Advanta Seeds are changing agriculture with their climate smart crops. During a historical day for Advanta Seeds they presented their new forage crop trials on Sugargraze to the President of Zambia, Hakainde Hichilema, at the Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI) of the Mount Makulu research station in Lusaka.

What is Sugargraze?

Braam van der Berg, Advanta’s Product Portfolio Manager for field crops Southern Africa, explains Sugargraze as a sweet sorghum hybrid. Sugargraze can be used for several purposes. He explains that the big advantage of using Sugargraze is that it is a climate smart crop. With Zambia experiencing a drought, Sugargraze is drought tolerant. “It is a multipurpose crop; you can use it for green fodder throughout the season, as standing hay, and continue to grow it up until winter when you send your animals into the field,” lists Braam.

Because of the high sugar content and brix level it, makes an excellent substitute for maize. When you compare it to maize, Sugargraze is higher in protein and energy, and is therefore more effective for silage. Sugargraze grows quickly and takes about 110 days before it can be cut for silage. It also means it can be grazed three to four times per crop cycle. “The main purpose of these trials was to compare Sugargraze with sugar cane to see if the former can be a substitute for bio-ethanol. It is a twelvemonth trial, because sugar cane takes twelve months to get to the stage of cutting. In this time the Sugargraze can be cut up to four times.”

Historical changes for Advanta and Zambia

Duan Viljoen, Business Manager for Advanta Seeds Southern Africa, says the purpose of the day was to show the benefits of growing forage sorghum as a dual-purpose crop compared to alternative crops. “Forage sorghum is one of nature’s best gifts to farmers. It is versatile and can be used as standing hay for grazing, as silage for animal feed and alternative purpose like for instance bio-ethanol production. For Zambian farmers this is the perfect alternative, because Sugargraze is a climate smart crop,” he explains. Advanta primarily provides seeds to the Zambian market and invests in research that assist the country to develop and diversify their crops.

“Of course we are here for the long run; we are here to see the Zambian system grow and to invest in the future of Zambia,” says Duan.

More than just food security

Steven Ngoma, Business Development Manager for Advanta in Zambia, explains they are looking at two different types of sorghum trials at ZARI: grain sorghumand forage sorghum. Grain sorghum is specifically for human consumption, while forage sorghum is used for animal feed and other uses. He says Advanta has been working in Zambia since 2018 and has mainly provided farmers with maize products. But they now also want to focus on their sorghum varieties.

“We have three varieties of maize; two white and one orange. As Advanta we want to focus on nutritional security. Sorghum is very nutritious,” says Steven. He adds that Advanta is investing in the advancement of both maize and grain sorghum which will mean more employment for the country. The varieties are developed by Advanta’s world class research and development and are perfectly suitable for Zambian conditions.

Agriculture helping Zambia grow

After a round table discussion with Advanta representatives and various other stakeholders, President Hakainde Hichilema had the opportunity to see the Sugargraze trials for himself.

Speaking to the media he said: “Climate change is here to stay, and the ramifications of climate change are obvious: drought, and sometimes in the same year, floods as well. We need mitigation measures, and these are some of the measures we are taking, scientists and researchers cultivating drought resistant crop varieties.”

He added that doing the research is good, but this technology now needs to go the farmers and to the fields. During the discussion, President Hichilema said the government must make a checklist to ensure that they give the right support not only to Advanta but other research companies as well.

“The pantry now can have a myriad of crops that will be produced under different conditions triggered by climate change. Then the nation can benefit from food security, and industrial applications to grow the economy and bio-ethanol”. He adds that he is a cattle man and one of the issues that livestock farmers face is feeding their animals. Sugargraze can help solve this problem. “I want to encourage the citizens of Zambia to support these initiatives. Let us help them to quickly commercialise mass production of the outcomes of this research so that the economy can flourish, and the young people can get jobs.

“Agriculture is critical because it is food, it is industrial, and it creates jobs. Young people must realise that farming is not only for the older generation. The idea that farming does not pay is wrong. I want to send a clear message that farming is a business. It is not just a livelihood; it is a growth opportunity. This research will give you the right varieties to start. The agriculture sector is one of the few sectors that provide you with food, an income, shelter on the farm, and as an African you can look after many people.”

Switching from maize to sorghum

Twice a year the Zambian government helps poor and vulnerable but viable farmers by providing them with seed and fertiliser for grain production. They assist about 200 000 farmers but have added another 100 000 to accommodate all 85 districts suffering from the drought in Zambia. Dr Chisangano Fransesca Zyanbo, Zambia’s Minister of Energy, says her team has been discussing and planning how they can migrate from giving their beneficiaries maize to giving them drought resistant seeds, like sorghum.

“Traditionally we give maize seed, but this year we have learned that we need to move away from the traditional maize and think smart, because if we don’t think smart and very quickly, there will be serious hunger situations in the country,” she says.

President Hakainde Hichilema arriving for the round table discussion and field visit.

Government working to promote sorghum

Reuben Mtolo, Zambia’s Minister of Agriculture, explains that they are already working on promoting sorghum for the export market. “Part of my responsibilities is to make sure we have sufficient production to feed ourselves and for trade outside. Maize is our food staple; we eat maize up to three times a day here in Zambia, and we are trying to encourage the community in Zambia to start changing their table habits by adding different types of food.”

He explains they have already been working on using bio-ethanol as an alternative fuel source. They have also added millet production, which includes sorghum to their Farmer Input Support Programme which they use for exporting. They now also support sorghum under their Credit Window, which is a sustainable financing facility they have introduced to banks. Lastly, they are focusing on bringing in more private sector partners like Zambeef and Zambian breweries to make use of these new sorghum varieties for their products.

Advanta leaving their mark on Zambia and Africa

Ndavi Muia, Advanta’s Subregional Head for Africa and the Middle East, was very pleased with how the event played out. He says like many others their entry into Zambia was with maize, but since 2018 they have been adding several crops to their portfolio.

“We have three varieties of maize which we sell in the local market, as well as an extensive portfolio of vegetables. We are dedicated to invest in Zambia. We see Zambia as a location for producing our varieties for multiple geographies elsewhere on the African continent. We invest in other crops beyond just sorghum, and have a wide portfolio of vegetable seeds as well. We want to make Zambia an anchor country for our business in Africa. Zambia anchors some of the neighbouring markets like Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. We plan on expanding in Zambia for the next ten years.”

If you would like to learn more about the benefits of sorghum, Advanta’s seed technologies, or wish get in touch with a representative, you can visit their website