Sorghum can transform farming in semi-arid areas

In Kenya, sorghum is grown in areas that are characterised by low rainfall and high temperatures. FILE PHOTO | NMG For many years, sorghum has been a popular food choice in the semi-arid regions of Africa. In Eastern Africa, the crop forms an integral part of diets for people in Ethiopia, Southern Sudan, Northern Kenya and Uganda. The fact that it is a drought-tolerant crop underscores its importance as a good source of food for hundreds of families.

But despite this promise, cultivation of sorghum lags behind other cereals such as maize, wheat and rice in terms of productivity and consumption.

Here in Kenya, sorghum is grown in the Western, Lower Eastern and Coastal regions, areas which are characterised by low rainfall and high temperatures.

Majority of the sorghum growers are small-scale farmers, having less than two acres of land under the crop. It is estimated that about 240,000 smallscale farmers cultivate sorghum, with farm sizes ranging from 0.4 to 0.6 Ha (1 to 1.5 acres). These farmers produce sorghum under the mixed farming system, intercropping it with other crops such as maize, cowpeas, beans and pigeon peas. The majority also grow it for domestic consumption as opposed to producing for the market.

A recent study undertaken by Tegemeo Institute on sorghum production in the country shows that the trends in sorghum productivity have stagnated since the early 2000s. However, between 2011 and 2016, yields started to increase. According to the study, the increase can be attributed to increased utilisation of sorghum for industrial purposes.

The East Africa Breweries Limited (EABL) currently leads the drive for sorghum commercialisation in Kenya and supports farmers to produce efficiently through contractual arrangements, where farmers are supplied with improved seed varieties and fertiliser. Ordinarily, farmers were constrained in access to these critical inputs due to lack of information, poor distribution of inputs especially improved seed, and high cost of inputs. Secondly, the contract provides farmers with a ready market enabling farmers to concentrate on enhancing yields to maximise profits.

Through the sorghum out-growers programme, the company has created employment for over 45,000 farmers drawn from Kisumu, Migori, Siaya, Homabay, Busia, Tharaka Nithi and Meru.

An estimated 80 percent of EABL’s raw material is now locally sourced, a milestone that has been achieved through strategic partnerships throughout the value chain, a ‘Growing Value Together’ programme designed to ensure the business shares economic benefits with local communities by improving livelihoods.

The government, through […]

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