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Origin and History

The cultivated sorghums in South Africa are of the specie bicolor and are known as Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench. Linnaeus described a group of sorghums under the name Holcus in 1753 and in 1794 Moench differentiated between the general Sorghum and Holcus. Until recently Sorghum bicolor featured prominently in its wild grass form in Africa and was established as a crop on this continent in due course.

On account of the variety of ecological habitats in the north-eastern part of Africa, the greatest variety of the wild and cultivated sorghums are found there. Diggings in Sudan, at Kadero, 18 kilometres north-north-east of Khartoum and roughly 6 kilometres east of the Nile, point to sorghum which was cultivated there as long ago as the second half of the fourth millennium B.C.

It is presumed that sorghum was introduced into the East in approximately 700 B.C. on account of the trade route between East Africa and India (via Arabia). Shipping trade also took place from India all along the coast of Asia, with the result that sorghum also found its way to China. Sorghum originally reached the USA as a result of the slave trade from West Africa, but later (1874 - 1908) also from North Africa, India and South Africa.

The word “sorghum” was derived from “sorgo”, the Italian name for the plant.