Farmers scale up sorghum farming as brewers come calling

As the cost of raw materials for producing beer brands get to an all time high, brewers are looking for cheap alternatives with some sorghum varieties being preferred. This has seen farmers across the country benefit as the brewers enter into a contract with the farmers to grow sorghum for them.

The demand for sorghum in Kenya has shot up dramatically following the decision by the East Africa Breweries Limited (EABL) to use the produce for manufacture of one of its beer brands, suppliers contracted by the beer maker said. “The demand is very high and farmers are unable to meet it.

“So we are now importing,” said Rose Mutuku, the Managing Director of Smart Logistics Solution, a company that is coordinating out grower sorghum farmers on behalf of EABL.  

“We are telling Kenyan farmers that this is the crops to grow now because there is a ready market and opportunity to make good return,” Mutuku said.

The type of sorghum being supplied to the EABL is known as gadam sorghum, which matures in three months and grows in areas that receive average rainfall.

The seeds have been developed by the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute (KARI) although their origins are traced to South Sudan , Kenya ’s north western neighbor.

Demand for gadam sorghum has now hit 32 metric tonnes and the supply is very poor, said Mutuku.

The next planting season is in October although people with access to irrigation water can continue growing the produce all year round.

Success of this project will be a major win for Kenya which is implementing projects meant to commercialize small scale agriculture and encourage young people to take up agriculture as a business.

This is also intended to achieve better food security situation and improve household nutrition situation.

The production of the gadam sorghum is estimated to be two metric tonnes per hectare according to research by KARI although Mutuku said the average production by most farmers doing large scale is one metric tonne per hectare and less for small holder farmers.

“Farmers still need to be educated on how to grow this variety properly so that they can get better yields,” said Mutuku.

The agriculture business model is particularly important in Kenya because the crop does well in areas that are drought prone and which suffer the biggest impact of hunger when the amount of rainfall reduces.

These areas also have higher incidence of poverty but regular income from the gadam sorghum would improve their purchasing power.

The business model is also an employment in a country where and small scale farming remains the largest employment opportunity and central to the empowerment of women according to the World Bank. Farmers growing gadam sorghum will now benefit from weather indexed crop insurance through a partnership of EABL, KARI and Jubilee Insurance Company.

And in Nyanza county, more than 600 farmers are now actively involved in growing gadam sorghum after EABL convinced them that it would buy the sorghum from them at a competitive price. EABL said that it was ready to contract farmers who had joined groups and combine their farms for large production of white sorghum.

The EABL sorghum project Manager Mr. Sylvester Ndeda said that they will be paying shillings 24 per Kilo when the company comes to purchase in their farms but those who will be able to take their harvests to the company storage facility in Nakuru will be paid shillings 30 per kilo. White sorghum has ready market with EABL through its subsidiary East African Maltings Limited (EAML).
Mr. Ndeda also guaranteed ready Market and stable price for the white sorghum and encouraged the farmers to take advantage of the opportunity.

Something else to celebrate about was the inclusion of European Co-operative for Rural Development(EUCORD) which is in partnership with  EABL and was represented by its International co-coordinator Mr. Peter Mudhanjia assured the farmers of technical assistance to improve their yields. The farmers however expressed concern over low pricing since they said that the sorghum seeds go for shillings150 per kg in addition they have to buy fertilizers and other farm inputs which are dear.

Another farmer Mr. Jared Ochieng' insisted that EABL had a set a low price which would make them out of the business. Other farmers complained over the safety of the chemical the company wanted to introduce as repellant against birds that would feed and destroy their sorghum wondering if it would affect their poultry or human beings.

But Mr. Michael Rioba, an expert said he was involved in the two year on-going research on the bird repellant chemical for sorghum and it was safe and only to put the birds at bay. During the occasion Siaya DC Mr. Boaz Cherutich urged the locals to venture into the plan and said it was a worthy cause worth trying. "New projects have been introduced and failed because of poor co-ordination, serious commitment to this project is needed for its viability," cautioned the DC.

He said that there was need to form working agricultural committees that would spear head the project and appealed to the idle local youths to use their energy in farming to be financially independent. Most farmers in Siaya County have abandoned different crops due to lack of market and poor prices and the introduction of sorghum as a cash crop is set to offer a stiff competition with other cereals.

The EABL has also partnered with East African Seed Company which is tasked with coming up with the best seed variety of sorghum.

According to EABL, local farmers stand a chance of harvesting nearly 25 bags of 90kilograms per hectare in a season.
Mr. Ndeda says the company is determined and has a strong technical team including agribusiness managers through out the County to work hand in hand with the farmers for the success of the business enterprise. EABL with most of its activities in Kenya currently depend mostly on raw materials being barley and sorghum from Tanzania and is working on locating its raw materials locally.

He says introduction of Sorghum in the area to boost up its raw material for making beer was not as a substitution of barley but will be used for making of certain brands of beer. Already the company has introduced sorghum in Eastern and Rift Valley provinces and has now moved to Western Kenya which is among the areas suitable for its cultivation. Majority of financial institutions like Equity, KCB have also assured the farmers that they will be available to offer credit facilities to various farmers at reasonable interests as well as offering financial literacy.

The financial institutions said that they will help farmers with funds right from the planting season until their produce is finally taken to EABL storage facilities.