Kenya could have sugar made from sorghum in the near future thanks to a discovery by researchers who advocate for the adoption of the crop due to its first maturing, high yielding nature and which could provide an alternative to the already strained sugarcane.
Dubbed the sweet sorghum due to its high sugar content, the variety is a favourite among livestock due to its sweet tasting stalks, to beer companies who use it to process beers and act as food sweetener while in the developing countries, it is used as syrup on pancakes,cornmeals and other cereals.
Sweet sorghum matures in three to four months compared to sugarcane that takes between 12 to 24 months with its leafy plant growing upto five metres tall. The crop could unlock the food insecurity maze in the country as it has ideal growing conditions for arid and semi arid areas. It for example requires some 3,000 cubic metres of water per hectare compared to 30,000 to 50,000 cubic meters for sugarcane and 8,000 cubic meters for maize.
Researchers at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology who are the brains behind the project say beside its sweeteners role it can also be used as bio ethanol and fodder. The grain sorghum has been used commercially by the ethanol industry due to its equal ethanol yield as corn.
But the greatest step by JKUAT researchers is to crystallize the sorghum syrup into sugar. “We are exploring the possibilities of making crystal sugar since it has more of glucose and fructose used as sweeteners,”said Dr. Daniel Sila a seniro lecturer and lead researcher at JKUAT in an earlier interview.
Already the project is being trialed in North Eastern, Nyanza and Eastern areas. The next step for the institution is to now roll it out en masse through partnering with local seed companies to handle seed multiplication. Already firms like Unga Limited and East African Breweries have expressed interest in the venture and has promised they will buy from farmers once full commercialization kicks off.
Commercial adoption of sweet sorghum could see Kenya emulate countries like India where the stalks of the sorghum are used for producing bio fuel by squeezing the juice and then fermenting it into ethanol.