Sorghum is a leading bioenergy feedstock crop in the United States and a critical source of nutrition for Sub-Saharan Africa’s population.
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI — The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given a three-year $6.1 million grant to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center to expand and speed development and deployment of sorghum phenotyping and breeding technologies to benefit smallholder farmers.

“The Gates Foundation recognizes that most smallholder farmers rely on small plots of land for food an income,” said James Carrington, Ph.D., president of the Danforth Center, one of the world’s largest independent plant science institutes. “This grant will help increase the productivity of a crop that can, in a sustainable and effective way, reduce hunger and poverty and make communities economically stronger and more stable.”

The Gates Foundation funding is seen as broadening the impact of the Danforth Foundation’s TERRA-REF program designed to improve sorghum yields and stress tolerance. Sorghum is a leading bioenergy feedstock crop in the United States and a critical source of nutrition for Sub-Saharan Africa’s population. The TERRA-REF program also is receiving support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

In addition, the Danforth Center is partnering with international and U.S. organizations and universities to employ cutting-edge technologies to sequence and analyze grain sorghum genomes, capture multi-million phenotypic observations across a growing season, and speed up breeding efforts by connecting phenotypes to genotypes.

Among the partners on the sorghum project is the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in  India, CEERAAS-ISRA in Senegal, CIRAD, a French agricultural research organization for sustainable development opportunities of tropical and Mediterranean regions, The Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAER), and the HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology, Kansas State University, University of Arizona, George Washington University and the Israeli NRGene, a genomic big data company developing software and algorithms to reveal complexity and diversity of crop plants, animals and fish.

Sorghum, a member of the grass family and grown worldwide, is a staple crop in Sub-Saharan Africa. Research interest is strong because grain sorghum yields have been flat or declining in recent years as a result of little development of new, improved varieties.

“The National Sorghum Producers is excited to see the additional investment into sorghum research and breeding, which will help farmers around the world as they continue to deal with the challenges of advancing sorghum genetics to address climate variability and the need for increased food sustainability,” said Tim Lust, chief executive officer of the National Sorghum Producers.