BHEARD scholar studies sorghum in South Sudan

posted on July 3, 2017 9:38am

  • Pin It
  • Share on Tumblr
 (view larger image)

Sorghum is a popular cereal crop in South Sudan because of its tolerance to high temperatures and scant moisture. However, the country’s farmers have experienced poor yields and crop failures in recent years due to the shrinking length of the growing season.

Majok Ayuen Garang Kok, pictured above, wants to boost food security in his home country by solving that problem.

Kok is a scholar in the Borlaug Higher Education for Agricultural Research and Development program. The goal of BHEARD, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is to develop agricultural scientists and increase agricultural research capacity in partner countries. The program is named after Dr. Norman Borlaug, an American biologist, humanitarian and Nobel laureate who has been called “the father of the Green Revolution.”

Kok, a former teacher and principal at a secondary school in South Sudan, as well as an emergency food security assistant officer with Oxfam Intermon, enrolled as a BHEARD scholar at Kenya’s Egerton University in August 2014. He graduated with a master’s of science in agronomy in December 2016.

One of Kok’s research projects was studying the influence of sowing date and variety on the performance and yield of sorghum in South Sudan’s Nile corridor zone. A changing climate, erratic rainfall and the shrinking length of the growing season have contributed to significant sorghum losses in the region, leading to crop failures and food insecurity.

Kok conducted a field study in Bor and Arek during the 2015 cropping season. Bor and Arek, about 20 kilometers apart, are on the east side of the White Nile, one of two main tributaries of the Nile River. The two locations fall under the Nile corridor agro-ecological zone, a flat lowland susceptible to floods due to poorly drained soils. Sorghum in the region used to grow from April to November, but in the last two decades that window has narrowed to June to October. The shorter season requires sorghum varieties that can complete a shorter growth cycle – and those varieties need to be sown at the right time.

Based on his research, Kok concluded that sorghum farmers should focus on two local varieties, Akuorachot and Dhet, and should plant them between June 18 and June 29.

Kok currently teaches courses in agronomy and supervises undergraduate students at Dr. John Garang Memorial University of Science and Technology in Bor, South Sudan. His research topics are varied, but include nutrient management of indigenous vegetables, water stress physiology in cereals and pulses, screening sorghum varieties for drought and flood tolerance, effects of nitrogen on yield, molecular organization and chemical defense in plants, and plant responses to external stimuli.

Kok hopes to one day further his studies and obtain a Ph.D.

– Matt Milkovich