Biopower to The People!

From the ICRISAT PowerPoint BioPower presentation

The Song Of Sweet Sorghum

Celebration is the word. While my hometown Asingan was celebrating her fiesta the other week, inadvertently I went there to celebrate my newfound inspiration crop: sweet sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), a crop I believe will revolutionize agriculture in Asia, Africa as well as the Americas, a plant I have yet to see. Blessed are those that have not seen but have believed?

Attending a meeting of Balikbayans, and talking especially with those who had resources for investment, in my enthusiasm, I tried to ‘sell’ sweet sorghum to one millionaire, Mr G, who is from our town, and with another millionaire, Mr E, who is also from our town, we visited another millionaire, Mr A, who is in another town but who is not from there. I learned that for sweet sorghum, Mr A had already dipped his fingers and reached into his pockets long before this, and I had the distinct impression he knew more than I did. No hard feelings. While I’m a good asker of questions, a good volunteer of information, I’m also a good listener. Not only to millionaires.

Quietly, as he talked I noted Mr A’s technology package for sweet sorghum as source of biofuel differed essentially from what I was thinking, he thinking of minimizing management risk (controlling the operations) and I thinking of maximizing human involvement (multiplying jobs), which I understand is the untravelled road Rusni Distillery has taken: it’s human hands that feed the sweet sorghum stalks to the crushers. But I didn’t tell Mr A that in fact I wasn’t thinking of mechanization, that I was thinking of humanization, that I wanted more human hands factored in, more people employed, that he was thinking of high tech while I was thinking of low tech. It would have spoiled the afternoon for both of us. I didn’t forget: After all, people selling themselves to sweet sorghum? Already that was music to my ears.

While I’m not an expert of sweet sorghum the way Dr William Dar is, who is Director General of ICRISAT (the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics), the way the scientists are at ICRISAT, I can say I’m becoming an expert at generating feature stories about sweet sorghum without repeating myself. So far, I have written and published:

(1) ‘The Yankee Dawdle. On Discovery Sorghum, The Great Climate Crop’ published by the American Chronicle 4 February 2007 – on the competitive advantage of sweet sorghum as source of biofuel over sugarcane (the choice of Brazil) and corn (the choice of the United States). ICRISAT ‘discovered’ it as a candidate crop to harvest carbon dioxide from the air and turn it into food, fuel, fodder, fertilizer.

(2) ‘An Inconvenient Truth: William Dar, The Filipino As Global Manager’ published by the American Chronicle 26 February 2007 – on Dr Dar as a global manager with a global strategy & outlook, ICRISAT with a global reach & impact & mode of operation – with focus on sweet sorghum as a global crop to mitigate global warming.

(3) ‘Discovery Manager: William Dar, Merlin Of Ethanol’ published by Inquirer.Net 9 April 2007 – in which I liken management to magic, a metaphor as to how Dr Dar in leading his Team ICRISAT transformed a poor man’s crop into a genie with the power to run engines and make money out of grains and fresh stalks and baggase.

(4) A fourth feature article, also published by American Chronicle (3 March 2007), ‘Primate Change? Or Climate Change? You Choose! – The Blogal Village Voice’ is wholly on global warming and what bloggers can do about it, but is connected to the other 3 articles because I relate sweet sorghum to the worldwide enterprise to mitigate global warming: being a poor man’s crop, sweet sorghum is to me the best crop in the name of transforming the economics country to country along with counteracting climate change worldwide.

I have just been inspired to write this with an email from Dr Dar attaching a PowerPoint presentation on ‘BioPower’ as developed by a team led by Bellum Reddy and Mark Winslow. So now I know that they now have a new website, named BioPower of course, a subdomain of

I say sweet sorghum is the crop that launched a thousand sweets because it has been cultivated for at least 2000 years in Africa (Sandhill Farm) and at least 300 years in the United States alone, to where it was introduced in the 17th century (‘Growing a Nation’). This crop makes excellent or high-quality molasses no matter where you grow the plant (Paul L Mask & William C Morris, University of Tennessee); it gives you a truly delicious syrup (Ken Christison & Keith Kinney, Hercules Engines); it is called a ‘Life Saver‘ because you get more (in yield) from less (in cost of growing) compared to other crops (Janqui Zou & Yuxue Shi, Sorghum Institute of LAAS).

It’s clear, ‘BioPower is pro-poor,’ says the ICRISAT PowerPoint presentation, sent to me by Dr Dar in pdf form. How? Reading the pdf and with what I know while focusing on sweet sorghum, I understand that:

1. BioPower crops are those that the poor farmers can grow. That is to say, the seeds are inexpensive. Compared to hybrid rice or hybrid corn, sweet sorghum seeds are cheap. In India and the Philippines, you can even get seeds free from your neighbor.

2. Biofuel crops produce not only fuel but also food and feed. Thus, rice produces food and feed but not the added value of ethanol that comes from processing corn, sugarcane or sweet sorghum.

3. They increase productivity so that food rides the biofuel wave. Some people argue that biofuel crops count out the food crops because food becomes fuel instead, such as what happens with corn (the Yankees’ choice for biofuel) and sugarcane (the Brazilians’ choice). But not with sweet sorghum; that’s why I like sweet sorghum.

4. Non-food biofuel crops grow in wastelands. The corollary argument to that in #3 is that biofuel crops crowd out the food crops because they supplant them in real space. That is avoided in the use of sweet sorghum, which grows well in bad soils. Don’t forget that food biofuel crops such as sweet sorghum also grow in wastelands.

5. As feedstock, biofuel crops increase income. Also, since sweet sorghum is cheaper to grow, the grains and fodder can be used by poor farmers to raise livestock, boosting their farm income.

6. Biofuel crops can be used to enrich those poor soils themselves such as through green manuring and trash mulching. Sweet sorghum is sure to do that, as it is a hardy crop that grows where other crops would not thrive.

‘BioPower: Empowering the poor through bio-energy’ says the BioPower website. To me, to empower the poor is to help them help themselves, for them to get rid of the popular bad habit of mendicancy, the baggage of centuries especially with the Filipinos. Mendicancy partly explains the indolence of the Filipinos. I’m imagining sweet sorghum as providing the biological energy and financial health to boost the psychological power of people to transform themselves from being helpless to being hopeful.

And two towns away from Asingan, that is, in Rosales, with the advocacy of Mayor Ricardo Revita, ICRISAT and the Department of Agriculture, Rusni Distillery will be erecting its first distillery of sweet sorghum for ethanol production in the Philippines (LCMY, 25 January 2007). That is added music to my ears.

ICRISAT led by Dr Dar (a Filipino), had inspired and convinced Rusni Distillery led by Mr AR Palani Swamy, to put up one of the world’s first ethanol-producing sweet sorghum distillery in the world. That is even more music to my ears.

You can then say I’m listening to The Song Of Sweet Sorghum.


Copyright 01 May 2007 by Frank A Hilario
Researched for, written, organized-reorganized & formatted via Microsoft Word 2003.


Explore posts in the same categories: biofuel, biopower, ethanol, ICRISAT, sweet sorghum, William Dar

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