Sorghum becomes the new cash crop for Meru farmers

Sorghum becomes the new cash crop for Meru farmers

Sorghum is the fifth most important grain after maize. It is considered as the continent’s food for the poor and is grown mostly by poor families for home consumption. Sorghum may, however, hold the answers to Kenya’s arid and semi arid areas low returns, malnutrition and food insecurity. Traditionally, sorghum has been used in the preparation of porridge, ugali, biscuits and sausages.

Sorghum has great potential for income generation and diversification for farmers in arid and semi-arid areas which account for more than 70 per cent of Kenya’s land mass. The only human activity in these regions is nomadic pastoralism.

Sorghum now a cash crop

Farmers in Meru have started to enjoy the benefits of adding value to their sorghum crop which has the potential to change their livelihoods through increased income. With the help of home grown agri-business enterprises called Shalem Investments, a sorghum purchasing and processing company based in Meru; sorghum farmers in the three Counties: Meru, Tharaka-Nithi and Kitui have began to reap the full benefits of sorghum production.

The company with the help of partners has mobilized and organized farmers to form a trading block that is able to supply sorghum to beer manufacturer East African Malt limited, a subsidiary of East African Breweries. Sorghum is the main raw material in manufacturing the popular beer brand Senator® and Keg®. A 90kg bag goes for Ksh 3,200.

In December 2017, Shalem Investments introduced a new sorghum based product to her portfolio of products- the fortified Asili Plus® porridge flour made from sorghum. The product is currently available in retail shops in Meru. It provides sorghum farmers in the area with additional source of income.

Farmer mobilization

The company works with over 20,000 small-scale farmers, and offers competitive prices to encourage quality and consistency in volumes of sorghum produced. The company has bought more than 10,000 tonnes of sorghum in the last three years. To make sure that distribution of the farmer’s produce is not a problem, Shalem Company helps to identify markets for farmers they work with and sells the produce at a profit while also processing to make sorghum based products.

The idea is to introduce agribusiness to farmers. The farmers are clustered together and sell their produce to the company which would have been difficult to reach for individual farmers due to low volumes. To ensure the effectiveness of the clusters, farmers are mobilized into groups of 20 to 50 members.

The groups are formed based on business indicators such as the type of crop, the size of land and the farmers’ capacity to supply the produce. The clusters are also classified according to social groups with the aim of empowering the youth and women. Currently, 60% of the farmers are women.

Farming is a business

One of the biggest problems facing farmers is that they do not see farming as a business opportunity. They don’t know how to structure their activities in a way that would benefit them. For the full impact of value addition to be realized, there is need for the farmer to learn entrepreneurship. Sorghum provides economic opportunities for traders and can be processed into flour for porridge, biscuits and sausages.

Working in groups

Value addition of sorghum in Meru brings to the fore the need for governments and other stakeholders to build the capacity of farmers to engage in commercial enterprise. Farmers in Meru have benefited from the International Fertilizer Development Centre (IFDC) supported project towards Sustainable Cluster in Agribusiness through Learning and Entrepreneurship (2-SCALE) Project. The 2-SCALE project seeks to improve livelihoods and food security in Africa by promoting agri-food industries through Public Private Partnerships (PPP).

Value addition provides a solution to the perennial problems of post harvesting losses and poor returns, and improve livelihoods. For value addition to work, all stakeholders in the value chain have to work together and leverage on individual strengths.

For more information on sorghum growing, go to http://www.infonet-biovision.org/PlantHealth/Crops/Sorghum

Submitted by theorganicfarmer on Thu, 02/01/2018 – 13:27

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