Sorghum is an important cereal crop in Kenya, with a long history of cultivation and consumption by various communities. It is a hardy crop that is drought-resistant and can grow in arid and semi-arid areas, making it an ideal crop for farmers in Kenya’s dry regions.

sorghum farming in kenya

Sorghum is a drought-tolerant crop hence itโ€™s grown in drier areas. Sorghum research started in the East Africa community in the late 1950s. When later the East Africa community separated into Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, sorghum research continued in Kenya in the late 1970s. Sorghum in Kenya is grown in western, northern Rift Valley, eastern, and some parts of Central.

The research objectives in sorghum research are; increased yield, drought, disease and pest tolerance, earliness, seed color, and marketability. The main activities involve germplasm acquisition, characterization and maintenance, development of breeding populations, development of improved sorghum varieties, and sorghum agronomic recommendations for the different growing areas.

The development of new varieties is done mainly through conventional breeding and sometimes through marker-assisted selections. Most of the varieties which have been released are open-pollinated varieties but recently hybrid breeding has been undertaken.

Sorghum Constraints being addressed

i). Low yields due to the use of local cultivars by farmers who mature late hence are affected by the short rainy seasons which are characteristic of the semi-arid areas

ii).Diseases. The common sorghum diseases are leaf spot, rust, leaf blight, anthracnose, ergot, head smut, and covered kernel smut. Sorghum-covered Kernel smut is the most damaging disease in dry areas.

iii). Pests. Birds, Sorghum shoot ๏ฌ‚y(Antherigona varia), Stem borers(Busseolafusca), aphids, bollworm, and Aphids. Birds are the main cause of crop loss in sorghum. Storage pests are weevils

iv). Few processing and utilization technologies hence reduced consumption.

v). Low marketability of brown and red sorghums

Vi). Labor intensity in harvesting and threshing. Due to lack of mechanization technologies in sorghum production.

Opportunities in sorghum farming in Kenya

High local demand for over 30,000 metric tonnes of white sorghums by the brewing industry

Demand of sorghum for processing of animal feeds

Climate change scenario which is affecting the production of other cereals such as maize in the arid and semi-arid areas

Early maturing, high yielding, market preferred varieties

Sorghum varieties in Kenya

i) KARI Mtama 1

This is a tall variety with cream white grain. The average yield is 3.8 tons/ha. It matures in three and a half to four months thus it may not tolerate very dry areas. It can grow in Eastern, Baringo, parts of Central and Western Kenya.

ii) Gadam

Gadam is a short variety with chalky white grain. The average yield is 3.15 tons/ha. It is a very early maturing variety, it matures in two and a half to three months. It is highly drought tolerant hence suitable for moderately dry and very dry areas in the upper eastern and lower eastern Kenya

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iii) Seredo

The variety has medium-height plants and the grain is brown in color. The average yield is 2.7 tons/ha. The plant matures within three months. It is fairly drought tolerant. It can be grown in moderately dry eastern and western Kenya.

iv) Serena

The variety has medium-height plants and the grain is brown in color. The average yield is 2.25 tons/hand the maturity time is three months. It is a drought-tolerant variety that can grow in eastern and western Kenya.

Sorghum production recommendations for increased yields

i).The effect of growth enhancers, Zinc foliar fertilizer application on white sorghum grain yield, and Stover weight

Growth enhancers can be used at (25-50 ppm)/ha + 2% zinc soil-applied or top-dressed to increase sorghum production in semi-arid lands.
Zinc application at 4% Zn soil applied as zinc sulfate should be used to increase sorghum productivity in semi-arid lands of eastern Kenya because the soils are deficient in zinc.
It is advisable to apply zinc at the topdressing stage of sorghum and should be applied on the soil around the crop base to avoid leaf scorching as this can reduce yield although more data is required on this observation.

ii). Appropriate sorghum legume rotations for increased sorghum productivity in semi-arid Eastern Kenya

Based on observed Gadam sorghum grain yield following a legume crop, shorter maturity N26 green gram variety is the best legume type for rotation with sorghum in the semi-arid lower eastern Kenya.
Gadam sorghum with fertilizer application (22 + 25 kg N and P/ha), timely thinning and weeding at 3 to 4 weeks after crop emergence are the best practices in the semi-arid lower eastern Kenya with a potential yield of 1.2-1.7 t/ha of grain.
iii)Bird menace management recommendation for sorghum

Over 90% sorghum grain yield can be salvaged if harvested at the soft dough stage (cream white). Overall, the highest sorghum yield loss was at the full cream grain stage, 20 days after the grain turned green.

It is recommended that farmers should harvest grain sorghum early to avoid damage by birds where these are a challenge. A full sunny day will provide the shortest drying period, while a cloudy or humid day could lead to grain rotting.

Seed rate and spacing

Farmers should plant sorghum at a seed rate of 2.4-3.2 kg per acre (6-8 kg/ha). Fodder varieties of sorghum should be planted at a spacing of 75 X 10 cm.

Sorghum withstand dry conditions of 600 mm annual rainfall and remain green at very low moisture levels. It provides the farmers with for feed and grain (dual-purpose sorghum) requires a spacing of 60 x 20 cm; this spacing allows for a higher grain-fodder ratio.

Here are some key points to consider for sorghum farming in Kenya:

  1. Soil and climate: Sorghum grows best in well-drained soils with a pH range of 5.5-7.5. It also requires warm temperatures (above 25ยฐC) and moderate rainfall (500-800mm) during the growing season.
  2. Varieties: There are several sorghum varieties grown in Kenya, including Serena, Gadam, and Macia. It is important to choose the right variety based on your location, soil type, and intended use of the crop.
  3. Land preparation and planting: Land should be prepared well in advance by plowing and harrowing to break up soil and remove weeds. Sorghum is usually planted in rows or broadcast, with a recommended spacing of 30-50cm between rows and 5-10cm between plants.
  4. Fertilizer and pest management: Sorghum requires nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium for optimal growth. It is important to test soil fertility levels and apply appropriate fertilizers based on the results. Sorghum is also susceptible to pests and diseases such as aphids, armyworms, and smut. Integrated pest management strategies should be employed to control these threats.
  5. Thinning: The crop should be thinned when it is 30 cm high or 30 days after planting, whichever comes first, to ensure a spacing of 75 X 10 cm between rows for fodder sorghum and 60 X 20 cm between rows for dual-purpose varieties. The spacing for dual purpose varieties allows for higher grain to herbage ratio.
  6. Manure application: Well-composted manure should be applied during land preparation and worked into the soil. Organic foliar feeds can be added when the plant is knee high.
  7. Weeding: Hand weeding should be done at least twice. A sorghum field should be kept weed-free especially at early stages of growth.
  8. Pests and diseases: Control of cutworms, aphids, shoot-fly and stalk borer is important. Birds like sorghum especially at milk stage; they prefer white-seeded varieties. Sorghum is generally disease tolerant. Control disease when necessary.
  9. Sowing: Sorghum should be sown at the onset of the long rains. Drill seeds along the furrows (trenches). Seeds should be planted 3 cm deep when dry planting to avoid germination in false rains, but 2 cm deep if the ground is wet.
  10. Harvesting and storage: Sorghum is usually harvested when the seed heads turn brown and begin to droop. The seed heads can be cut off and threshed manually or with a machine. The grains should be properly dried and stored in a cool, dry place to prevent spoilage.

Sorghum has a wide range of uses in Kenya, including as a staple food, livestock feed, and raw material for industrial processing. With proper farming techniques, sorghum farming can be a profitable venture for farmers in Kenya’s dry regions.

Profitability Of Sorghum Farming In Kenya

Sorghum farming in Kenya is a viable agricultural venture that has the potential to be profitable for farmers. Sorghum is a versatile crop that is drought-tolerant and can grow in a range of soils. It is also a key ingredient in the production of beer, which makes it an attractive crop for commercial farmers.

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One of the factors that contribute to the profitability of sorghum farming in Kenya is the high demand for sorghum in the beer industry. Kenyan breweries such as East African Breweries Limited (EABL) and Kenya Breweries Limited (KBL) rely on sorghum as a key ingredient in their beer production. This means that farmers who grow sorghum can expect to find a ready market for their crop.

Another factor that contributes to the profitability of sorghum farming in Kenya is the cropโ€™s ability to withstand drought conditions. Sorghum is a resilient crop that can grow in semi-arid areas, which are common in Kenya. This means that farmers who grow sorghum can still expect a good harvest even in years when rainfall is low.

In addition, sorghum farming in Kenya can be profitable because the crop is relatively easy to cultivate. Sorghum requires minimal inputs such as fertilizer and pesticides, which reduces the cost of production for farmers. This means that farmers can earn a good profit margin even with a moderate yield.

However, to maximize profitability in sorghum farming, farmers need to adopt best practices in crop management. This includes selecting high-yielding varieties, practicing proper soil preparation, timely planting, and effective weed and pest management. Farmers can also increase their profitability by adopting modern farming technologies such as irrigation systems, which can help to increase crop yields.

In conclusion, sorghum farming in Kenya is a profitable venture for farmers, especially those who can tap into the demand from the beer industry. The cropโ€™s resilience to drought conditions and low input costs make it an attractive option for small-scale farmers. However, to maximize profitability, farmers need to adopt best practices in crop management and utilize modern farming technologies.

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Estimated cost of sorghum production in Kenya

The cost of sorghum production in Kenya can vary depending on a number of factors such as the size of the farm, type of inputs used, and level of mechanization. However, here are some estimated costs based on data from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization:

  1. Land preparation: KES 6,000 to KES 8,000 per acre
  2. Seeds: KES 2,500 to KES 3,500 per acre
  3. Fertilizer: KES 3,000 to KES 4,500 per acre
  4. Pesticides and herbicides: KES 2,000 to KES 3,000 per acre
  5. Labor: KES 8,000 to KES 10,000 per acre
  6. Miscellaneous expenses: KES 1,500 to KES 2,500 per acre

Therefore, the total cost of production per acre of sorghum in Kenya is approximately KES 23,000 to KES 32,500. It’s worth noting that these are estimated costs and the actual cost can vary depending on the specific circumstances of each farm.


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