The evolution of sorghum milling industry in Botswana

*Moreri Gabakgore
Wednesday, 08 November 2017
The evolution of sorghum milling industry in Botswana

The modification of a sorghum milling machine known as dehuller by the defunct Rural Industries Innovation Centre (RIIC) in Kanye in 1979, gave Botswana a hall of fame experience.

But sadly, this comprehensive experience was not duly celebrated even after the machine was awarded first prize among 26 developing countries that entered for the development technology competition held in Italy in 1986.

According to some researchers, the machine, which could be regarded as the flagship of the country’s sorghum milling technology because of its role in liberating women from exhausting sorghum processing labour, is only familiar to development workers and has not been communicated effectively to academics in the applied science and scientific disciplines. This is probably the reason why its modification was not done with a bang.

Records show that the first research on sorghum dehulling machine was conducted by a Canadian Agricultural economist between 1974 and 1975 who identified mortar and pestle processing of sorghum in Botswana as time consuming. 

His research was apparently conducted to find out whether the first effective design of barley thresher by the National Research Council of Canada could be used in Botswana.

Sequel to his findings, the Botswana Marketing Board, BAMB established a processing facility at Pitsane depot between 1975 and 1978 to dehull sorghum as part of the research which quickly demonstrated that urban and rural households liked the flour from the dehulled sorghum and were prepared to pay 10 to 20 per cent premium for the flour over the price of maize flour. By contrast, the machine had been tried in Senegal before but was not found to be very useful.

By 1978 the Pitsane facility was in the hands of RIIC who modified the machine to make it more compatible with village needs after conducting a survey in the southern part of the country in the following year with the aim of developing a Botswana versatile dehuller that would alleviate the pounding constraints by women.

Information gained from this survey helped guide the company in producing the Botswana brand of the machine in 1979 which is not only used in the country, but in Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, Senegal, South Africa and Zimbabwe where it is  instigating the evolution of de-centralisation of milling operations in both rural and peri-urban areas..

Unfortunately, the machine has no Setswana name as a brand and its generic name, dehuller, does not resonate well with older generation in the country, who associate with the Setswana name for a short gun, dihala.  Many people feel the machine should be named after RIIC to honour the company and to keep its memory alive.

Sadly, RIIC was closed in 2010, a move seen as a tragic blow to the country’s sorghum milling technology that freed women from their traditional hand stamping in a mortar (kika) with a pestle (motshe) to remove husks (moroko) regarded as trash or food for the unprivileged. 

Unfortunately, husk was removed and thrown away without realising that it retains the most nutrients needed in our bodies. But with the advent of milling industry, it is now in the country’s menu as a delicacy and also as cattle feed.

 Another important tool in sorghum processing was a basket-like sifter (leselo) designed to separate coarse particles from the flour (bopi) as the final product.  All stamping tools were shelved 38 years ago after the modification of the machine and would soon be profiled as ancient tools for posterity.In 1983, owners of sorghum milling systems in the country formed the Botswana Mill Owners’ Association (BMOA) to strengthen its infant industry as a lobby to influence government policy on pricing and the supply of sorghum. 

As a result, commercial milling was introduced where several bags of sorghum grain are purchased and processed in a continuous flow to produce flour in plastic bags for sale to individuals and retailing outlets.

Most of these milling companies are producing sorghum flour in plastic bags bearing their names such as Odi in Odi, Dudu in Metsimotlhabe, Sebethane in Thamaga and Seboane in Bokaa for example.  This is a positive development that strives to preserve indigenous names used in the traditional sorghum processing.


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