Large-scale sorghum farmers grapple with high labour cost
Posted Monday, August 13 2012 at 15:53
Investors in large scale sorghum farming fear that high labour costs during weeding and harvesting will push them out of business despite a ready market offered by brewers.
A number of farmers have signed contracts with East African Breweries Limited (EABL) for the supply of sorghum, but they are grappling with inability to use machines during weeding and harvesting time.
Farmers said the varying heights of the crop, caused by irregular germination and maturation, meant that only manual labour could do.
Mr Sydney Kipchirchir, a farmer in Uasin Gishu, said manual labour was time consuming and expensive.
He said that using a combine harvester, for instance, would lead to a partial harvest of the crop.
Mr Kipchirchir challenged researchers to come up with a crop that matures at an equal height, more or less like cloned tea bushes, and renders itself to mechanisation.
Mr Kipchirchir said he had employed 30 workers for six weeks who were yet to complete harvesting the crop on his 50-acre piece of land.
Varieties of sorghum planted in the North Rift region are Gadam and Sila which mature in three months.
However, the crop has taken longer than expected, interrupting the rotation cycle for other plants, because of prolonged rains. The crop does well in semi-arid lands.
The seeds were developed by the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute (Kari) although their origin is traced to South Sudan.
“Farmers should ensure that every sorghum variety is planted separately to ease the movement of machines such as combine harvesters. Each variety has a different period of maturity and height,” said Dr Lawrence M’Ragwa, the assistant director in charge of seeds at Kari.
Farmers said that they were advised to plant the Sila variety, but Dr M’Ragwa said Gadam does well in high rainfall areas.
He said that the variety matures after three months, but due to the difference in altitude it could take up to a maximum of 120 days to mature.
Farmers also said that there were no chemicals that could eliminate weeds without affecting the crop.
Large scale farmers used to mechanical weeding are now forced to rely on tedious manual labour.
“When I tried to spray a small portion of my farm with a common herbicide, it failed to differentiate sorghum from weeds affecting the crop,” said Mr Kipchirchir.