Farmers Cash in on Sorghum
Sorghum is gaining popularity among farmers as a cash and food crop thanks to demand from brewers like East African Malting Limited (EAML) and other entrepreneurs looking to purchase sorghum to make ugali, porridge, cakes, and even mandazi.
This was not always the case for Richard Ojenge, who struggled to make ends meet with a meager income from his carpentry business. He ventured into farming with the aim of providing a sustainable solution to food security to his family. Initial attempts to grow sunflower, maize, and beans discouraged him, but he got his break when he embraced sorghum farming in 2015.
This was after he attended a forum held by Feed the Future Kenya Agricultural Value Chain Enterprises (KAVES). The project established that sorghum largely remained a subsistence crop, despite potential for trade and industrials uses. This was further aggravated by low average yields due to poor agronomic practices, low quality seed, and postharvest losses. This in turn yielded low volumes, insufficient to meet the growing demand for industrial processing.
The project embarked on a series of awareness campaigns to bring significant growth in sorghum demand. Farmers were encouraged to grow new drought- and striga-tolerant varieties, and were pleasantly impressed by good harvests even under minimal rainfall. Farmers were also linked to consumers and the agro-processing industry, providing a ready market for their production.
A number of farmers increased the area under sorghum production to earn additional income. “After harvesting three bags of sorghum from small 0.25 acre demonstration plot, I leased 2 acres of land to grow more sorghum. From this I harvested eight bags – nearly 700 kilograms,” said Ojenge.
As part of a farmer group, Ojenge is able to aggregate his production and sell in bulk to EAML. The group has a contract and adheres to good agronomic practices to ensure their produce is viable for the market.
“I reserved two bags for household consumption after receiving training on the nutritional benefits [of sorghum]. I no longer worry about school fees or money to meet our daily needs or medical bills,” said Ojenge.
Interventions have since seen county governments committed to supporting the uptake of sorghum production and consumption. Households are embracing the nutrient-dense sorghum in their meals even as demand grows in the brewing and milling industries.
To improve yields, KAVES works with seed companies to supply certified high yielding seeds and trains farmers on good agricultural practices, increasing the yields from stagnating national averages of 0.5 tons per hectare in 2006 to 1.4 tons per hectare today.