Bukidnon explores viability of sorghum for feeds, fuel

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/13 August) — Sweet sorghum plantations in Bukidnon?

Engr. Alson Quimba, Provincial Agriculturist, says a joint group of government and private sector representatives are set to explore the possibility of sweet sorghum plantations in Bukidnon as there is now a revival of interest in sorghum as alternative for feeds and bio-fuel.

This month, he said, technicians will scout for areas that may be suitable for sorghum.

Quimba noted that investors have made several trips to Bukidnon to explore the viability of the crop.

Sweet sorghum is a kind of grain that can grow up to 12 feet high. Unlike sugarcane, more products can be derived from its panicle down to its sugar-rich stalk, according to the Department of Agriculture.

The DA promoted sorghum as a viable energy source after a study funded by the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) found that it is one of the most promising sources of biofuel and feeds in the Philippines.

Although not popular in the Philippines, the BAR said in 2008 that sorghum ranked fifth in the world as the most important cereal next to wheat, oats, corn, and barley.

Quimba said the Provincial Agriculture Office is yet to assess the potential of the crop in Bukidnon.

“We have to check if it’s good for agriculture in Bukidnon,” he said in a telephone interview.

According to the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), sorghum is a staple food crop of millions of poor in semi-arid tropics of Africa and Asia. It is also an important fodder and feed crop. ICRISAT is likewise promoting the potential of sweet sorghum as a cost-efficient source of biofuel.

In 2006,  the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics tapped the International Society for Southeast Asian Agricultural Sciences (ISAAS), Inc. led by Dr. Roberto Rañola Jr., to conduct a feasibility study on using sweet sorghum as feedstock.

The study found that sweet sorghum is comparable if not better than sugarcane for ethanol production. The study was concluded prior to the enactment into law of the Biofuels Act (RA 9637) which requires vehicle manufacturers and owners as well as oil companies to use fuels diluted with sugar or starch-derived alcohol to reduce the country’s dependence on imported fuel and promote cleaner air.

The feasibility study noted several advantages of growing sweet sorghum for biofuel. First, it is drought-resistant and can endure storms and flooding. Second, yield of bioethanol from sweet sorghum is comparable to that of sugarcane and better than cassava. Third, the feedstock cost for the distillery from sweet sorghum ranges only from P12.55 to P14.07 per liter of bioethanol, which is lower than the feedstock costs of sugarcane, cassava, corn, and molasses.

Sweet sorghum is also considered a cheaper and more reliable source of feedstock and bioethanol fuel for consumers.

The study also affirmed that biofuels have a huge captive market in the Philippines, a factor that will attract investors to enter the business of bioethanol processing.

As mandated by the Biofuels Act, at least 20 bioethanol plants are needed to meet the requirement of an E10 (10 percent ethanol and 90 percent unleaded gasoline) blend by 2010, according to the BAR. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)