Perennial Sorghum Cropping Systems

Lead Organization:

The Land Institute (TLI)

Partner Organizations:

National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute (NaSARRI) and FRNs in Bukedea, Pallisa, Ngora, Soroti, Katakwi, Serere, and Amuria districts’ target communities






Climate change intensifies smallholder farmers’ challenges—degradation, poverty, and food insecurity—in low-income nations. Rethinking agricultural systems and expanding crop diversity is imperative (IAASTD, 2009; Streit Krug et al., 2023). Perennial crops grown in polycultures are a transformative solution that could benefit smallholders, reducing tilling, increasing soil organic matter, decreasing drought vulnerability, and conserving soil and water (Crews et al., 2018). Perennials can also potentially increase soil carbon sequestration, which, if employed on a large scale, could significantly mitigate climate change. Although perennial grains are used similarly to annual cereals, their production necessitates agronomic adjustments. TLI has been at the forefront of efforts to develop perennial varieties of a wide variety of crops, such as sorghum, wheat, and sunflower (Cox et al., 2006; Crews et al., 2014).

Founded in 1976, TLI leads the movement for a perennial, regenerative grain agriculture to address climate, water, and food security crises. It has identified desirable genotypes, including those with long panicles, large grains, good regrowth and perennial abilities, and high biomass and grain yield production. Yet challenges such as photoperiod sensitivity, low pollen fertility, and disease susceptibility persist. The team’s solution includes cross-pollinating TLI germplasm with Ugandan sorghum varieties and studying perennial crops within smallholder farmers’ sociocultural and economic contexts in sub-Saharan Africa.

Grant Aims:

The overall goal is to: 

  • Develop locally adapted perennial grain sorghum and management strategies according to farmers’ needs. 
  • Uncover potential benefits of various perennial crops for smallholder farmers. 
  • Identify barriers—agronomic, political-economic, social, and cultural—to perennial cropping system implementation. 
  • Foster a strong global network for perennial research.

This transdisciplinary project recognizes smallholder agriculture as a holistic system, encompassing social, economic, political, and ecological aspects. Successful agricultural technologies should incorporate various scientific and societal insights and prioritize smallholders’ realities (IAASTD, 2009; Roling, 2009; Isgren et al., 2020). 

Specifically, the project aims to address the questions: 

  • What features would smallholder farmers want included in future perennial systems to maximize social and economic benefits? 
  • Under what circumstances are smallholder farmers likely to adopt perennial systems? What challenges may be encountered? 
  • What are the best perennial sorghum varieties and management practices for the Drylands of Uganda? What are the typical yield, insect, and pathogen issues challenging major perennial crop production in Uganda? 
  • What potential do various perennial cropping systems have to sequester carbon and mitigate climate change and land degradation? How do different perennial grain cropping systems impact key soil health indicators compared with their annual system counterparts, i.e., perennial versus annual sorghum?

Outputs and Outcomes:


  • Co-developed resilient perennial sorghum-legume (using cowpea, mungbean, pigeonpea, or groundnuts) intercropping systems that aim for increased yield, soil health, pest resistance, nitrogen fixation, and weed suppression while economizing water usage and providing farmers with diversified income streams
  • Co-established on-farm demonstration plots in Uganda’s Drylands as real-world educational base for farmers, promoting sustainable techniques such as intercropping and crop rotation
  • Establishment of resources for long-term experimentation with multi-crop systems, including perennial sorghum
    • Development of suitable germplasm for diverse agroecological conditions and educational materials, including comprehensive set of videos made easily accessible via digital platforms
    • Coverage of crucial topics such as soil health, pest management, and crop rotation to educate farmers on practical and effective methods for managing perennial crops
    • Co-authored popular and scholarly publications underlining myriad benefits of perennial cropping systems to serve as guidebook for farmers and policymakers
  • Co-developed Uganda-adapted perennial sorghum varieties as measured by higher yield, drought tolerance, pest resistance, and significant agronomic traits, notably early maturity, rich nutrition, and resource efficiency


  • Smallholder subsistence farmers understanding benefits of intercropping as sustainable farming practice as measured by increased participation in intercropping training, reported inquiries to cooperatives and extension services, and application of techniques on farms
  • Smallholder subsistence farmers adopting sorghum-legume intercropping practices and achieving marked increase in crop yields and improved soil health as well as notable dip in chemical fertilizers and pesticide reliance as reported by cooperatives and extension services
  • Establishment of transdisciplinary global network to innovate strategies and technologies to further perennial-based agricultural systems and facilitate exchange of knowledge and expertise among researchers, policymakers, and practitioners from different countries
  • Creation of new framework for student involvement in vital perennial agriculture research—as informed by collaboration with Makerere University graduate students—facilitating two-way knowledge exchange and seeding inception of innovative techniques for next generation of researchers in region to revolutionize perennial agricultural methodologies