The recently enacted Kitui County sorghum law is a huge step towards stemming food insecurity, which all other counties must emulate.
After realising the potential of sorghum as a cash crop and a crop to boost food security, the Kitui County Assembly enacted a law known as ‘Sorghum Act, 2014,’ which provides for the growth, development and regulation of the sorghum industry.
Under this Act, the county government seeks to accelerate the growth and development of the industry, enhance productivity and income of farmers and the entire rural population.
The law is also expected to improve investment climate and efficiency of agribusiness in the county.
After various researches by different institutions, including the national government, specific varieties of sorghum were found to be climate-resilient and, therefore, suitable for dry-land areas such as Kitui and the entire semi-arid eastern Kenya.
The crop was later widely adopted by farmers when the East African Breweries Ltd (EABL) started making sorghum beer, thus creating a market particularly for smallholders. With time, the farmers started learning different methods of cooking sorghum, a thing that has greatly improved food security.
Sorghum is now the crop of choice for farmers in the region, the reason why the boost by the county government is welcome. The Dr Julius Malombe administration has promised to create an enabling environment for the development of a vibrant sorghum industry. This, according to the Sorghum Act, includes establishing institutional linkages to coordinate the provision of credit, farm inputs and marketing of the crop.
The county government is also lobbying the national government to remove a tax imposed on beer made from sorghum reducing the supplies EABL bought from farmers.
It also wants the National Cereals and Produce Board to make sorghum part of its strategic grain reserves.
But as it awaits that to happen, it is encouraging farmers to make sorghum their main cereal.
Some families are now boiling the cereal and eating it, others are mixing it with rice or maize and using its flour to make ugali or porridge. In western Kenya, the mixture (maize and sorghum) is famously known as ‘otama’ and is often used to make very tasty fermented porridge.
Another positive move from Kitui is that in case of food emergency, the county government will ensure that sorghum is distributed as a priority food for human consumption and as animal feeds.
The county government has also promised to determine and promote the implementation of agricultural policies and measures in a manner designed to support and enhance productivity in the sorghum industry.
This is a positive move by a county government. The national government should, therefore, strive to put in place policies and enabling environment to support such noble county initiatives.
In addition, such pro-active measures should be emulated by other counties to ensure that smallholder farmers have something to turn to when climatic conditions are not favourable.
Some of the most food insecure communities in Kenya are poor farmers in the sugar-belt regions.
This is because the earliest maturing sugarcane variety is usually harvested after 18 months. And because the farmers who own one or two acres of land have immediate financial needs, they end up leasing their crop, which most often occupies the entire piece of land to those who have money – in most cases for three seasons.
With every season taking an average of 18 months, it literally means that the farmer will not use his or her land for 54 months, which totals four-and-a-half years.
This has rendered hundreds of farmers food insecure leading to malnutrition and starvation among communities living in the areas with the most favourable climatic conditions.
MCAs in sugarcane areas should, thus, emulate what their Kitui counterparts did by enacting laws that promote food security and give poor farmers incentives.
Some of the crops that have been proven to be climate-resilient and important for food security include cassava, sweet potatoes and finger millet, among others.
Isaiah Esipisu is a journalist specialising in agriculture and climate change reporting. [email protected]