In Context: Crops of the Sahel

By Falguni Vyas

March 23, 2012

Editor’s note: In Context is a new series designed to inform and educate you on Heifer’s work in each country we have a presence. Every two weeks we’ll tackle a different country and examine unique situations related to hunger and poverty, how Heifer works to address them as well as take some time to explore local culture and traditions.

The Sahel is home to cowpeas, pigeon peas, groundnut, green grams and chick peas but millet and sorghum are the two most vital food crops of the Sahel.

Millet is a group of annual grasses that are mainly found in arid or semi-arid regions in the world, normally found growing in places that barley and wheat are unable to thrive. The small seeds that come from these grasses are usually cultivated as cereal.

Sorghum, also used in cereal, is the fifth most important cereal after wheat, rice, maize and  barley. Usually grown in areas that is too hot and dry for most crops to produce, it is somewhat more ecologically advanced and is considered to be drought tolerant.

It is easier to grow in drier areas because of the following:

  • Reduced leaf area and thus reduced water loss through transpiration


  • The above ground parts of the plant grow only after the root system is well established
  • Competes favorably with most weeds

Because sorghum is drought tolerant doesn't mean that there is plenty of it growing when nothing else will survive. Sorghum remains dormant during drought and will only resume growth when conditions are favorable.

Take a few minutes and watch this video from It details the food crisis in the Sahel and shows us what's being done by agencies like UNICEF to help alleviate malnutrition and hunger caused by the regions most recent drought.