To address the food shortage in Kenya the government is advocating for sorghum farming and other indigenous food crops.
The crop does well in semi-arid areas because of its capability to resist drought and early maturity.
Sorghum farming has been around for ages, especially in Western, Eastern, and Coastal regions.
I visited several sorghum farmers in Funyula, in Busia County, and from the look of things, this year the farmers are expecting a bumper harvest.
Funyula Constituency is one of the areas in the county that experiences little rain for only three months between the month of March and May which make sorghum the ideal crop to farm.
According to Ms Betty Nekesa, a sorghum farmer, she confirms that the sorghum crop requires little rain with less maintenance compared to the maize crop.
“Busia for many years has been known for growing indigenous crops, but somewhere along the way, farmers abandoned the crop to venture into maize farming which is not doing well. But those of us who went back to sorghum farming, this year are going to reap well.
She noted that “Sorghum does not require thorough maintenance and plenty of rainfall and it matures within the shortest time possible. In this part of the country, the Samia sub-county is one of the areas that receives little rainfall and the only crop that can survive is sorghum and as you can see behind me it has done well.”
Mr Dugu Alli, another sorghum farmer in Nanderema in Funyula, says he planted Ndiwa sorghum and he attests that the variety has done well this year compared to maize crops he has been planting for years.
“Sorghum farming is profitable. The crop does well with little rainfall and maintenance. For many years I have been planting maize but before it matures, the rains fail affecting its maturity. Despite scanty rains in this region, we will harvest the sorghum,” he noted
According to Funyula Member of Parliament Dr Oundo Mudenyo, to beef up food security in his constituency, through his office they distributed Ndiwa sorghum seeds variety to more than 600 farmers early this year in a pilot program, they planted them and from the reports he has, farmers will have a ‘heavy harvest.’
He says with food security, food challenges the residents have been facing for many years will be solved
“This is one of the constituencies in the western that experiences little rainfall and that has posed challenges in food security. To address that, we agreed as an office to obtain a certain sorghum variety called Andiwa for our people as a pilot project and we selected 650 farmers whom we gave 1.6 tons of seeds, and as we have seen the variety is doing well.
Dr Mudenyo says as an office they plan to expand sorghum farming to more farmers so that they can produce the crop in large quantities and supply the surplus to Kenya Breweries and other companies that are in the business of making beer.
“Our target is to engage more farmers so that we produce sorghum in large amounts and sell the surplus to breweries across the country. We started as an experiment for food security but as of next year, we are going to commercialize sorghum farming beyond food security.” He noted
According to him, the varieties mature within 3 months which makes it ideal for the Samia region considering that the area receives little rainfall.
He appealed to the county government of Busia to recruit more agricultural extension officers to help farmers with knowledge not only on sorghum farming but other general skills in agriculture.
“This is a short maturing variety. In this region, the rains start in March and it goes to May. Meaning that if we go to the variety that takes a long time to mature will be affected when rains fail in June. We informed our farmers to prepare their farms on time so that by the time rains settle in, in March they should start planting.”
“That is why I am appealing to the county government to employ more agricultural extension officers and empower them to help educate the farmers on agricultural matters across the county.” He said
He says the main challenge facing sorghum farmers is post-harvest losses. Poor handling, improper temperature management, rotting, and diseases, cause post-harvest losses urging them to store their produce well to avoid damage.
In Kenya, post-harvest losses result in 30% of all food loss which contributes to more than 400 billion Kenya shillings in losses per annum.
According to Director General Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) Dr. Eliu Kireger, the majority of farmers in the county are into maize farming despite not doing well adding that the climate in Busia favors indigenous crops such as millet, sorghum, and cassava farming, and also the crops are pest resistant.
“Busia County is the leading producer of Cassava production in Kenya and also produces large quantities of sweet potatoes, sorghum, and millet.
Data available shows that farmers in the county have gradually reduced production of these traditional crops and instead preferred maize farming which is highly susceptible to weather conditions, pests, and diseases and requires high cost of inputs,” he noted
He said, “Under climate change conditions we need to revert back to the traditional crops which naturally have adapted to this particular condition only that they have been improved to be able to produce higher yields and within the shortest time possible.”