How growing sorghum changes lives
A calm warm morning greets us as the sun rises at the foothills of Kiagu in Imenti South Ward, Meru County, where we meet Stella Muthee inspecting her crop of sorghum – Gandam variety
Stella is a contract farmer mobilized by Kenya Breweries Limited to grow sorghum, a key raw material in the production of their Senator keg beer. Through the Smallholder Sorghum Program, KBL has created jobs for over 47,000 farmers from Kisumu, Migori, Siaya, Homa Bay, Busia, Tharaka Nithi and Meru counties.
Stella is an agronomist by training. After completing her studies, she returned home to do farming where she grew corn, beans and other crops. The returns were not impressive and she realized that most farmers in her area lacked the skills necessary for profitable farming. She took the opportunity to train them on the best agricultural management practices. and mobilized for the formation of table banking groups aimed at improving their livelihoods.
“It was in 2015 that we were introduced to growing sorghum, although many farmers did not adopt this crop,” Stella adds.
According to a recent study carried out by the Tegemeo Institute on behalf of KBL, the introduction of sorghum beer in the market has improved the production and welfare of sorghum producers throughout the country.
Previously, sorghum production declined due to a reduced production area which had a ripple effect on yields.
However, production of the crop is now at an all-time high thanks to the production of sorghum beer which has led to increased use of sorghum for industrial purposes. This change provides a market opportunity to absorb large volumes of these products at competitive prices.
During our interaction with Stella, she tells us that growing sorghum requires fewer inputs than other crops and the yields are attractive to farmers.
“Before the harsh economic crisis in our country, a farmer used minimal expenditure for the production of sorghum, which prompted many of them to adopt this crop, especially women who have now added the breeding of dairy cattle in their value chain,” she says.
“It’s as if we are now employed by sorghum and dairy farming because we profit from both of these activities.”
Speaking on employment, Stella tells us that growing sorghum has created jobs. “We hire young people to do a lot of the work. A minimum of 10 people per acre is required for activities such as land preparation, weeding and harvesting.
His words were cemented by Jeremy Muiti, a young farmer who in 2007, after his O level studies, he would be hired on sorghum farms with his age mates before his parents gave him a piece of land. acre where he is now engaged in growing sorghum.
“We had organized ourselves into groups where we worked as casual laborers from preparing the land to harvesting sorghum,” says Muiti.
“It was through this work that I saw how sorghum farmers were going to make huge profits, which made me think and I got into sorghum farming. My fellow youth also embraced growing sorghum and now we enjoy the fruits. »
Thanks to the product, he continued his studies where he obtained a degree in purchasing and logistics management.
Muiti and Stella in addition to being sorghum producers, they do aggregation, they buy sorghum from small farmers in their area and sell it to KBL.
He asks KBL to enable them, as young people, to add value either through seed multiplication or through seed milling before transport.
With capital being a thorny issue for young people venturing into agribusiness, Muiti appeals for Sacco to be trained in the sorghum sector so that fellow students can access funds.
As contract farmers under KBL, the duo can plan their farming activities unlike farmers who are operated by brokers.
According to Peter Mala, the Eastern Region representative of KBL (Nakuru in Mombasa), they have three different contract groups: an individual farmer, a group of farmers and an aggregator.
Stella has been on contract farming for four years and notes that she is able to plan her business early unlike farmers who are not under the scheme. She enjoys being an aggregator in this lucrative business.
On future sorghum farmers, Stella has this message; you need to do soil tests first, know what type of fertilizer you need to apply to your crop, the right inputs and at what stage to apply, good agricultural practices, manage your crop keeping this crop intensive workforce.
Growing sorghum in Imenti South constituency, what would one need for an acre of land?
• Annual rental fee – Ksh. 8,000
• Plowing – Ksh. 2,000
• Seeds – 4Kgs (Ksh. 900)
• Herbicides – Ksh. 850
• Herbicide spraying job
– Ksh. 250
• Plantation – Ksh. 1,200
• Fertilizer (planting and top dressing) – Ksh. 10,000
• Fertilizer Application Job – 600
• Harvest – Ksh. 2,100
According to Stella, a farmer will receive 15 bags of sorghum each weighing 100 kg and sell one kg to Ksh. 33 on the farm while Ksh. 42 in the company.
Stella and Muiti say that although growing sorghum is a good business, although there are problems in the business such as climate change, especially when the rains come during harvest time, farmers lose a lot. because we depend on the seed and once it encounters water, it starts to germinate, so the aflatoxin cases go into waste. Pest outbreak, Fall Army Worm is a major threat to this crop, farmers are forced to dig deeper into their pockets to buy chemicals to control this pest. On the Covid-19 pandemic, she adds that they have not been spared as the demand for beer has gone down so KBL has not been able to buy all of their products. Birds are a problem for this crop and during certain seasons they can reduce your yields and a farmer is forced to incur expense to employ someone to hunt them, this season we are happy as there is no lots of birds.
Peter Mala adds that “with a satellite office in Mithokima, they noticed that 80% of their raw material comes from Tharaka Nithi and Meru counties and it is for this reason that they set up the office there in order to reach local farmers.
“With the office here, we can reach more farmers to spread our intentions and give them affordable inputs,” he says.
Mala says KBL is not allowed to import sorghum, so with the agreement between the company and the government, they source the raw material locally, thus offering a price to the farmer.
“The company accompanies the farmer from preparing the land to harvesting, so the farmer is aware of the price in addition to when the money is coming into their pockets,” Mala explains.
With the high demand for the raw material, according to Mala, they are required to ensure that 40,000 acres of land is given over to sorghum, which will yield between 20,000 and 25,000 metric kilograms per year, as the demand for sorghum beer had increased. This is why they brought together more than 30,000 sorghum producers. Although land is an issue in sorghum-planting counties, most farmers are small-scale, so they are encouraged to rotate crops.
“Mtama ni Mali! the next millionaire is a sorghum farmer, Mala had this in her parting sentiment adding that it is entirely possible to perfect the art of sorghum farming by talking to your soil and crops.