Researchers target beer companies with sweet sorghum

SweetSorghumA sweet sorghum that yields seven times more than the conventional varieties, can be used for food and liquor production and takes less than four months to mature has been is set to be introduced to Kenyan farmers.

The new sorghum variety was first introduced by Mumias Sugar Corporation of Kenya and released to researchers for further development for adoption in the entire region. The project which is spear headed by researchers from Makerere University is part of a wider millennium Science Initiative Project on Cereal Improvement being tested in Ugandan Eastern districts of Serere, Bukedea and Kumi .

According to the project leader Associate professor Patrick Okori, the new sweet sorghum varieties are fast maturing taking less than 4 months in the field. The breeding of resistant varieties is part of the effort concerted by the university to mitigate the impact of climate change and enhance crop production for value added use so that farmers change from food security crops to income generation. “Our research is geared towards addressing food insecurity and diversifying farmers’ income through availing to them viable options,” explained Professor Okori.

He further indicated that the new variety rather than only benefiting the farmers will also be ideal for sugar cane companies. “The new variety will help sugar companies in the region to concentrate on sugar production to minimize shortfalls and at the same time act as a source of income for farmers.” He further explained, "We have produced a special variety called sweet sorghum for waragi to substitute molasses so that we relieve sugar cane industries from using sugarcanes to produce molasses. We want Kakira in Jinja to introduce sweet sorghum for syrup, molasses and animal feeds."

Countries like Brazil have used the same technique to get ethanol for fuel and diversified crop residue for animal feeding. Unlike sugar cane that takes 24 months to mature, the sweet sorghum has a short maturity period of four months hence utilizes less water, fertilizers and efficient labor for improved yields. The varieties yield seven times the available varieties.
About 15 good varieties for confectionary were released to a group of 2500 farmers involved in the research who selected 4 varieties. According to Professor, Okori the varieties chosen by farmers were basically for food but the study objectives transcend to include value addition.

He said Farmers selection was based on tallness and convenience to harvest the sorghum and the color for mixing with cassava. The white sorghum was high yielding but farmers preferred the red one because a lot of the white sorghum is lost to birds in the field and therefore require large scale production. One of the successful farmer groups involved in this research is the People Knowledge Women Innovation of 2500 people that grew from women group. 70percent of the members are women and 30percent men who have managed to form a cooperative to engage in research for more than 15 years.

The varieties are also being tested in Western Kenya in Kisumu and Mombasa under extreme weather conditions for final testing before releasing them to the public. Conditions for the release of new varieties include planting for three seasons in different environments and testing of the variety by the consumers. In this project, farmers have already tested the variety.