'Kawanda' Sorghum
'Kawanda' Sorghum
'Kawanda' Sorghum

'Kawanda' Sorghum

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Zea mays subsp. mays

Origin: Unknown, likely East Africa (via Nigeria)

Improvement status: Landrace

Seeds per packet: ~50

Germination tested 11/2023: 99%

Life cycle: Annual 

EFN INTRODUCTION. We are very pleased to introduce this lovely dual-use sorghum, which is among the sweetest-stalked sorghum varieties in the world. Officially known as 'L. 26 Kawanda', it tested in the top 5 overall for sucrose content in a USDA trial of 1,211 sorghums in the government collection (at 12.3% sucrose — most fall into the 2.75 to 5.5% range). The grains are beige-colored, mild-flavored, and easily hand-threshed. Plants are tall, productive, and resilient, but they do usually require a long season.

These seeds were produced by our friend Amirah Mitchell, founder of Sistah Seeds, in Philadelphia — and we wouldn't recommend trying this variety much farther north than the Mid-Atlantic. But African sorghums like this can be unpredictable, seeming to be more dependent on rain patterns for determining flowering date than any other factor. Many sorghums are listed in the government database as day-length sensitive, which usually means they won't begin to flower until too late in the season to produce seed in our region, but based on our experiences it's clear that many of these will produce seed early if there's a prolonged dry-spell in August — we presume this is because these sorghums have been adapted to the strict wet-season/dry-season dichotomy of their place of origin. So it's certainly worth trying farther north. And in some years it might not produce in the Mid-Atlantic or even the Southeast, so we strongly recommend never planting all of your seed. We're hopeful that by making this exciting variety available, we'll learn more about it over the coming years. And perhaps some of you might use it to develop new varieties adapted to your particular location. We've considered it a standout since we first trialed it in 2014, and we're grateful to Amirah for growing it out so we can finally include it in our catalogue!

The history of this sorghum is rather opaque. We know that it came into the USDA collection in May of 1952, donated by grain expert Orrin Webster of the University of Nebraska. He got it, along with many other sorghums, from Nigeria. The recorded name, 'L. 26 Kawanda', however, indicates that it came out of the Kawanda Agriculture Research Institute (KARI) outside Kampala, Uganda, which has long had a reputation as one of the most important agricultural research institutions on the African continent. Founded by the British imperial government in 1937 on a former rubber plantation, KARI's colonialist founders originally focused most of their attention on cash crops like coffee and cotton. But over the years, and especially after Uganda's independence in 1962, the focus shifted to more local priorities, like bananas, cassava, sweet potatoes, legumes, millet, and sorghum. As a 2011 report by the World Academy of Sciences put it, "Research conducted on the hill in Kawanda has weathered Uganda’s turbulent political history to become a byword for quality African science." While we have yet to find any information about the original origin of this sorghum — which we've dubbed simply 'Kawanda', since 'L. 26 Kawanda' is a mouthful, and no other sorghum variety currently bears the name — old sources indicate that KARI mainly focused on plants collected in Uganda itself, or nearby Kenya and Tanzania, so we believe it's likely this variety originated in that region.