sealPurdue News

January 28, 2003

Purdue research helps feed Africa

Purdue University agriculture researchers are among those trying to make sure that all the planet's people have access to adequate food. Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug will talk about his work to nourish the world during this year's Purdue Ag Alumni Fish Fry on Feb. 8. Purdue efforts to improve nutrition worldwide include:

  • Purdue sorghum a hot commodity in Africa – Over the next two years, some 400,000 African families may enjoy a variety of sorghum developed at Purdue. Purdue researchers distributed the striga-resistant sorghum to 1,000 farm families in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Striga is a parasitic weed estimated to cause sorghum crop losses of more than $7 billion annually. Subsistence farmers in semi-arid regions cannot afford costly chemical controls for the weed. The farmers who received the seeds are operating demonstration plots, multiplying the seed and redistributing the harvested seed to other communities. Sorghum is the primary food source for hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa. CONTACT: Gebisa Ejeta, professor of agronomy, (765) 494-4320,

  • Purdue develops easier to digest sorghum – Although sorghum is consumed by people and animals alike, it is not as easily digested as other cereals. Typical protein in sorghum is 46 percent digestible compared to the protein in corn, which is 73 percent digestible. A Purdue food scientist found that protein bodies inside sorghum seed are surrounded by a tough inner protein wall. Stomach enzymes take longer to break down the wall to reach the nutritional proteins in sorghum than is true for similar grains, such as corn. Further study identified a special sorghum variety, in which the protein body wall is structured differently. This sorghum variety has substantially higher protein and starch digestibility. A publication-quality photograph of Hamaker is available at CONTACT: Bruce Hamaker, professor of food science, (765) 494-5668,

  • Uncertainty about food content costly to African mothers – Lack of information about food content causes many impoverished mothers in Africa to spend about five times more for name-brand infant food even when generic formulas are available, according to Purdue agricultural economic researchers. In a study of child malnutrition and the value of food certification in Mali, researchers calculated that the average mother would pay about 30 percent of the cost of higher priced infant food just because the label contained quality and content information. There is no food certification system in Africa, but the study suggests that certifying foods would encourage people to purchase greater quantities of affordable food. CONTACT: William Masters, (765) 494-4235,

    Writer: Beth Forbes, (765) 494-2722,

    NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: The following are story ideas. More information on Norman Borlaug is available on the Web. Tickets to Purdue's Ag Alumni Fish Fry are still available by contacting the Purdue Ag Alumni office at (765) 494-8593.