The East African Regional Conference on Sorghum Value Chain participants have identified smallholder farmers as a critical link to satisfying the current high demand for the crop in the region.
The annual forum, which took place last week, identified smallholder farmers as a reliable suppliers of the grain as they often re-invest in sorghum farming, thereby drawing a multiplier effect.
Large-scale farmers, on the other hand, are more likely to invest their proceeds in alternative projects than their small-scale counterparts, thereby slowing down growth in the sorghum value chain.
The forum comes at a time when the demand for sorghum has tripled in the last five years.
Sorghum production in the country has increased from 173,170 hectares in 2009 to 222,000 hectares in 2013, while the production increased from one million bags to 1.8 million bags in the same period.
Elizabeth Kimenyi, head of crop at Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Authority (AFFA) attributed the growth to brewing companies.
“Brewing companies have turned to using white sorghum for their processes and this has seen farmers increase their cultivation of varieties such as Sila and Gadam,” Ms Kimenyi told the conference participants.
“Consumption of sorghum at domestic level has been low because of eating habits and taste preferences but it is increasing due to the need to eat healthy foods associated with traditional food crops.”
Treasury Cabinet secretary Henry Rotich in June announced that the government would grant tax incentives in respect to alcohol products made from sorghum, millet or cassava that is 75 per cent locally sourced.
This was after President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law the Alcoholic Drinks Control (Amendment) Bill 2015, setting the excise tax cut (remission) at 90 per cent from 50 per cent.
Sales of Senator Keg — an East African Breweries Limited (EABL) low-cost beer manufactured using sorghum — dipped sharply after introduction of a 50 per cent excise tax in October 2013, forcing the brewer to suspend 20,000 contracts it had signed with farmers.
East Africa Malting Limited (EAML), a subsidiary of EABL, said at the sorghum conference that the market of sorghum in the country remains fully untapped, encouraging more farmers to grow the crop.
“We are seeing the situation improving, we are targeting up to 22,000 tonnes in the year 2015 as the demand for Senator has risen, extending this gain to our sorghum farmers,” EAML general manager Lawrence Maina told attendees of the conference.
“Development of new varieties, has also increased use of certified seed and agronomy as well as increased investment in the sorghum value chain.”
The brewer purchases sorghum at Sh33 per kilogramme.
A study conducted by Tegemeo Institute showed that the higher excise tax on Senator Keg drink saw farmers’ forgo income of Sh180 million from sale of sorghum to the regional brewer in the 2013/14 financial year.
Last week’s sorghum forum also brought to fore the need for sorghum farmers to adopt better farming practices such as intercropping, use of recommended variety such as white sorghum, as well as red sorghum to boost production.
It also highlighted that a number of challenges inhibiting the growth of sorghum have been dealt with over time, including enhancing access to markets, driving education on proper sorghum farming practices, as well as access to finance.