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Sh40m shot in the arm for farmers willing to grow sorghum

Wednesday September 22 2010

Given rising demand for sorghum as an ingredient for beer production, and its ability to survive harsh climatic conditions, the government has set aside Sh40 million for firms to produce its seeds and disseminate to farmers. Photo/LEONARD MAGOMBA

Given rising demand for sorghum as an ingredient for beer production, and its ability to survive harsh climatic conditions, the government has set aside Sh40 million for firms to produce its seeds and disseminate to farmers. Photo/LEONARD MAGOMBA 

By KABURU MUGAMBI [email protected]

In bid to make sorghum farming a business, the government has set aside Sh40 million for new seeds, modern technologies and extension services to farmers.

Agriculture ministry yesterday invited companies to tender for production of sorghum seeds, particularly the Gadam variety.

Those contracted are expected to produce the seeds, which the government would distribute free of charge through district agricultural offices.

“The reason why we are contracting seed producers is because we have realised that conventional seed companies are not doing enough,” Agriculture permanent secretary Romano Kiome on Tuesday told the Nation.

Although the government distributes seeds for other traditional crops such as cowpeas and green grams, he said, it has deliberately focused on efforts to advance sorghum due to its commercial use.

“These actions by the government are specific to sorghum because we want to produce it for brewing,” Dr Kiome said. “The demand East African Breweries (EABL) put out last year could not be met.”

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The beer-maker recently announced that it was turning to sorghum for brewing to cut dependency on expensive barley. The firm currently uses sorghum to brew the Senator brand.

“It is, therefore, evident that there is adequate market to produce sorghum commercially by farmers in Kenya,” the PS said.

The crop, he said, is among the drought-tolerant species that can contribute towards food security in Kenya in these times when climate change is considered a threat to feeding the growing number of mouths.

Its productivity has remained low. Over the last six years, sorghum production peaked in 2007 at 1.8 million bags compared to 1.6 million bags the previous year.

In 2004 production stood at 800,000 bags, but in 2008, it fell to 600,000 bags in what the government attributed to delayed planting after post-election violence and adverse weather.

In an ad yesterday, the Agriculture ministry invited interested organisations to bid for the supply of clean certified “Gadam” sorghum seeds.

Field days

Institutions which will win the tender are expected to disseminate appropriate technologies through field days and demonstrations and train 15,000 farmers on various agronomic technologies for production of high quality grain acceptable to the market.

There is a renewed interest by regional governments and the international community to enhance sorghum research in order to improve food production and combat perennial shortage.

The Moi University Sorghum Research Team has carried out extensive research with emphasis on soil acidity and phosphorus deficiency since 2006.

The greatest threats to its production include drought, and witch weed (Striga).