- Sorghum resists water stress as it needs little rain to flower.
- Weeding at the right time and spraying against pests and diseases such as stem borers and stem rust is mandatory for higher yields.
- Sorghum in the area can produce up to two tonnes per acre under the natural conditions while maize produces 500kg or fail completely.
Somewhere in Baringo County, some few kilometres from the scenic Lake Baringo, sits lush green farms in Olkokwe and Waseges sub-location.
The farms are bustling with sorghum in the semi-arid region, where crop farming is largely frowned upon because of the aridity.
Joshua Koima, one of the farmers growing the crop on two acres in Waseges, says they embraced sorghum because maize does not perform well in the region.
He farms under the Sinendet Semi-Arid and Arid Lands Agribusiness Initiative, which brings together over 20 farmers.
“We used to plant maize and the old variety of sorghum, which were not profitable. But this January, we embraced Mtama One, a high-yielding sorghum variety,” says Koima of the initiative spearheaded by Egerton University and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the United States Agency for International Development.
As many other farmers, he intercrops the sorghum with legumes such as beans, cowpeas, groundnuts and green grams.
Samson Chebon, 42, a farmer from Olkokwe sub-location harvested 10 bags of sorghum recently from his one acre that he sold making Sh80,000, more than triple what he used to make from maize.
According to Chebon, the new variety takes three months to harvest while the local variety takes up to five.
“Planting maize here is a big gamble, but since I started farming sorghum, I don’t worry much about poor rains because even with little rains, I am sure of having a good yield from sorghum,” says the father of five.
In the past, he used to harvest eight bags of maize and after selling at Sh2,000, his income was Sh16,000.
The quelea and weaver birds are some of his biggest challenges as they attack the cereal when it starts forming heads and sucks fluids, destroying the crop.
He employs scouts to scare away the birds from 6am to 11 am and at 4pm to 6.30pm which eats into his income.
Kisanana Ward agricultural extension officer Nelson Cherutich says rainfall in the area is between 500mm –1,000mm per year which is good for sorghum.
He notes sorghum resists water stress as it needs little rain to flower.
The best way to get maximum yield, according to him, is to use the right inputs such as seeds and fertilisers.
“Spacing is critical and the distance between the rows should be about 60cm and the distance between crops 15cm. This helps reduce overcrowding for the plants to get sufficient nutrients and right moisture.”
Thinning by weeding out some crops is done at two to three weeks after germination.
“Weeding at the right time and spraying against pests and diseases such as stem borers and stem rust is mandatory for higher yields,” says Cherutich, adding the farmers’ main challenge currently are poor roads that hinder access to the market and the birds.
BENEFITS OF SORGHUM
Paul Kimurto, a professor of crop physiology and breeding from Egerton University, says sorghum has better nutritional value with more zinc, iron, low digestibility, and is good for diabetes patients.
Prof Kimurto notes that the farmers will soon enter into a contract with Agro Soko, which will sell their produce to East African Breweries Limited at Sh27 per kilo.
Sorghum in the area can produce up to two tonnes per acre under the natural conditions while maize produces 500kg or fail completely.
James Tuitoek, a professor of animal nutrition and the former vice-chancellor of Egerton University, advises farmers not to throw away crop residue and instead use it as fodder.
“Apart from sorghum residue, pigeon pea has two advantages as its leaves are a source of proteins for cows while seeds are consumed as human food,” says Prof Tuitoek, the team leader of the project that develops and promotes drought resistant crops for arid areas.