While many farmers view sorghum as an inferior food crop, over 6,000 farmers in Siaya County have a different perception of the crop that was once a staple in Kenya long before the arrival of maize and other exotic crops.
In Siaya, a campaign dubbed Jilishe Kisha Uuze (Grow, Feed and Sell) spearheaded by East African Breweries Ltd has rekindled interest in the crop.
The beer-maker’s campaign, now in the third year, seeks to promote sorghum as a cash crop as well an alternative source of raw material for the largest beer makers in eastern African ties in well with the government’s Big Four Agenda. The latter’s key themes are food security, universal healthcare, decent and affordable housing and expansion of the manufacturing sector to create employment.
At the end of the first season of the campaign in 2018, more than 6,800 small-scale farmers in Siaya earned over Ksh390 million from the 12,642 metric tonnes of the produce sold to the beer-maker, according to the county director of agriculture Isaac Munyendo.
Mr Munyendo says farmers, who had over 10,539 acres under the crop, supplied the sorghum through aggregators and registered farmer groups contracted by the EABL.
A contracted farmer, George Spencer Wambiya, says the white sorghum is a blessing to Siaya farmers.
“I sold the surplus harvest and retained a 90-kilogramme bag for consumption,” says the 37-year-old farmer from Karindi village, South West Alego location.
The sorghum, he says, when ground into flour, makes very good porridge and its ugali is nutritionally rich and tastier than the traditional sorghum consumers prefer.
Wambiya says his farm yielded thirteen 90-kilogramme bags each of the gadam variety from his two-acre farm and sold a kilogramme at Ksh32US$ 3 cents). The farmer, who ventured into farming four years ago, however, explains that sorghum farming comes with challenges a farmer must be ready for, among them, the bird menace.
“Having spent about Ksh20,000 (US$200) on the venture, I made close to Ksh15,000 (US$ profit within two and a half months that the crop takes to mature” he says. He would150) have harvested more had it not been for the birds, he says.
The birds start feeding on the crop in the second month of flowering. A farmer has to spend a lot of time in the farm to keep the birds away.
Wambiya laments that when EABL agents were recruiting farmers to take up sorghum farming, they promised to provide chemicals to prevent the birds from eating the grains. However, he says, the brewer has not honoured the promise. Another challenge is the lack of inputs such as seeds and fertilisers.
“The seeds were made available late, same as the subsidised fertilisers. They were not enough and we had to buy the inputs expensively from local agrovet shops,” he says.
An aggregator who coordinates the purchase of white sorghum in Siaya, Linet Akoth Otieno describes the “Jilishe Kisha Uuze” initiative as a venture with a lot of potential in future.
Speaking during a farmers meeting at the Siaya Agricultural Training Centre (ATC) recently, Ms Atieno said the market for white sorghum was big and urged farmers to take advantage of it to earn more.
“Besides cash, it is good for food security,” Ms Atieno says.
“Perhaps the best thing, apart from putting more money in the pockets, it is a raw material that is used to make legal and safe drinks that protects consumers from illegal liquor,” she adds.
Atieno, who, through her company, Lyeve Enterprises Ltd. Siaya handled 1,500 farmers with approximately 500 acres, says she paid out Sh6,400,000 for the 200 metric tonnes delivered during the first season in August, 2018. The farmers earned Sh32 per kilogramme.
Another aggregator, Farm to Market Alliance, a subsidiary of the Cereal Growers Association, dealt with 300 farmers in the county who produced 97.5 tonnes.
The firm’s coordinator Brian Etemesi Sande, says that Rarieda and Bondo sub-counties led in white sorghum production, followed by Ugenya, Alego/Usonga, Gem and Ugunja.
Mr Sande explains that the crop, if taken care of, has the potential to impact positively on household earnings and the local economy.
“We are buying at Sh32 per kilogramme, while maize at this time is sold at even Sh20 per gorogoro (two-kilogramme tin) at harvest time,” he says and appealed to locals to embrace the crop.
Sande, however, advises the farmers to ensure that they grow only four varieties of the white sorghum: Sila, Gadam, KARI mtama1 and Advanta as these are the only ones that EABL buys.
He says that unlike in the first season when farmers were supplied with seeds, in the next season farmers interested in the venture will buy seeds from approved vendors.
“In 2018, EABL gave out seeds but just about 20 per cent were planted while the rest is probably still in the hands of individuals,” he told a farmers meeting held at ATC.
On challenges, both Sande and Atieno are in agreement that threshing of the crop was a big challenge to the farmers during the first season.
“The farmers brought produce full of dust. Some had weevils, an indication of poor post-harvest handling,” laments Linet.
The aggregators also complained of transportation challenges as result of poor access roads, which made them incur a lot of expenses.
Siaya county executive committee member for agriculture Charles Ogada hails the venture as a good enterprise that offers a ready market to small-scale producers.
“Their price at farm gate is fair,” says the county minister for agriculture.
He, however, calls on the small-scale farmers to form groups and take advantage of economies of scale to share costs and earn more.
“Our farmers can benefit more if they consolidate their activities as they will be able to access inputs and even labour at a fair cost hence maximising on their profit,” says Mr Ogada.
For many years, barley was EABL’s raw material of choice but in 2009, the company added sorghum to its raw materials. To ensure the success of sorghum, EABL, through the department of agriculture helped develop a value chain that helps promote the crop, with farmers receiving training on best practices and post-harvest handling.
Siaya County’s climate is among the most conducive for sorghum and millet production and its proximity to the Sh15 billion refurbished EABL plant in Kisumu means local farmers are poised to benefit more.