SMS | Action Research on Innovative Models to Unlock the Complexity of Improving the Livelihoods of Sorghum and Millet Farmers in the Sahel

Farmers in the Sahel manage extremes. They are resource-poor, rely on rainfall for irrigation, and experience some of the highest rainfall variability in the world. Against this backdrop, sorghum and millet play a pivotal role because they act as a natural hedge for farmers and their families against less drought-tolerant crops, like maize.

Despite their important role in the lives and livelihoods of farmers, neither crop has received the research and financial support needed to set a clear path toward increasing the value of cultivation in the Sahel. This program sets out to better understand how production of sorghum and millet features in farmers’ livelihoods and what that means for the investment choices they make.


To realize agricultural productivity gains for smallholder farms growing sorghum and millet in the Sahel, by testing intervention hypotheses with farming households in Burkina Faso, Mali and Nigeria.


To better understand how sorghum and millet feature in smallholder farmers’ livelihoods and what that means for investment choices they make regarding these crops.

The majority of households in The Sahelian region of West Africa depend on sorghum & millet for their food security. These crops play a pivotal role in the lives of subsistence and smallholder farmers because of their relative drought resistance in a region that has among the highest rainfall variability in the world. Sahelian farmers are informed about sorghum & millet’s utility, and rely on them to hedge against other crops, including maize, that are more sensitive to rainfall.  Despite the importance of sorghum and millet in food security, they are characterized as orphan crops and have received limited support and research to date.


Unlocking the potential of sorghum and millet

by better understanding the livelihood and cropping systems in the Sahel region

SMS graphic

There are a number of potential solutions and interventions that could increase the value farmers get from the cultivation of these crops. These range from improved access to high quality inputs and professional services to the development of formal linkages between farmer organizations and large buyers. But, because relatively little is understood about how the production of these crops feature into farmers’ livelihoods, and what that means for the investment choices they make, there is not a clear path forward.

The dual objectives of the two-year program are to: 1) understand the most effective approaches to increase sorghum and millet productivity for smallholder farmers and 2) distill insights gained from the four pilot programs to inform future investment. This program sets out better understand how production of these crops features into farmers’ livelihoods, and what that means for the investment choices they make.

Developing a go-to-market plan for a nascent technology, including an acquisition pathway within the agriculture outputs distribution channel 

Developing an agricultural dealer concept to target an international business opportunity

Creating a unified vision for the future of a large prescision agriculture company


Context Global Development (CGD) has partnered with four organizations to implement the sorghum and millet in the Sahel (SMS) pilot program. The Realizing Agricultural Productivity Gains in the Sahel is funded by the the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and is aimed at realizing agricultural productivity gains for smallholder farmers growing sorghum and pearl millet in the Sahelian zones of Burkina Faso, Mali and Nigeria.

Utilizing a dealer delivery model for productivity packages in combination with one-on-one training and a mobile, card-based layaway payment system

Adapting its Family Farm Management System (FFMS) to smallholders in Burkina Faso and Mali while developing the capacity of farmer organization and other institutions to provide service delivery and training

Logos_0002_Vector-Smart-ObjectStrengthening the professional services capacity of a local interprofessional association (CIC-B) and testing several fee-based service delivery mechanisms

Logos_0003_Vector-Smart-ObjectApplying a market-oriented approach to drive farm investment by developing formal linkages between local production clusters and major sources of agribusiness demand