George Oduor, a farmer in Siaya County in western Kenya, harvested 18 bags of sorghum from his one acre land in late April.
This was a feat he had never achieved as a farmer, and coming at the height of a dry spell, Oduor was ecstatic.
He then delivered the 90kg bags of sorghum to an aggregation center, where they were later picked and delivered to the buyer – listed firm East African Breweries Limited (EABL).
Initially, the farmer who was planting maize would harvest some 10 90kg bags and sell the grain at a nearby market to brokers for as low as 1,500 shillings each.
The drought-resistant sorghum, which has ready market from the company, is steadily changing lives among Kenyan smallholder farmers in many ways.
Up to 15,000 farmers have been contracted to grow the crop in western Kenya, with thousands of others in different parts of the country, especially those that are semi-arid.
As the rest of farmers across the country were in dilemma when the rains delayed in March, those growing sorghum were unmoved.
For Oduor, he planted in October 2018 during the short rains season, where the rainfall was also scarce.
“Sorghum requires little rains to grow. The crop did well and survived the dry spell thereafter until when I harvested,” he said on Monday.
It was the same case for farmers in Tharaka Nithi, Makueni, Kitui and Meru, where the crop is also grown and sold to EABL.
The drought-resistant crop, which is also grown alongside millet by some farmers, is steadily redefining farming across the east African nation.
With the ready market from the firm, farmers have avoided working with exploitative brokers who were buying a bag of sorghum from as low as 2,500 shillings (25 U.S. dollars), against the current market price of 50 dollars.
And the crop is creating jobs and boosting incomes across the value chain. “We have contracts with EABL which uses the grains to make beer.
“This means we cannot sell to anyone else but we are assured of the market. This is better than selling to brokers,” said Jason Muthuri, a farmer in Tharaka Nithi, noting he made 5,000 dollars from the crop last year.
Along the value chain, transporters of the produce from different parts of the country and seed manufacturers are some of the biggest beneficiaries of the sorghum boom.
A report released recently by the Seed Trade Association of Kenya indicates that industrial demand for sorghum has seen seed firms offer more varieties and boost their market share from 85 percent in 2015 to 91 percent in 2018.
Beatrice Macharia of Growth Point, an agro-consultancy, noted that sorghum being a drought-resistant crop, is the best to farm especially in semi-arid areas to overcome effects of climate change.
“Sorghum does well with little rains. Once the crop sprouts, it needs less rain to survive. Farmers in dryer areas have better income because of this crop despite the erratic rains. This is the revolution that farmers need amid climate change,” she said.
Macharia noted that with contract farming, farmers are not only assured of income but also get training and quality seeds from the buyer.
Sorghum production in Kenya rose in 2018 to 2.1 million 90kg bags from 1.9 million 90kg bags in 2017, according to the Economic Survey 2019. Enditem