Nelly Bassily | May 9, 2011
Dickson Ndaka was not excited when extension officers brought him news of a new commercial opportunity. A beer manufacturer was looking for farmers willing to grow the Gadam variety of sorghum. While all farmers want such a ready market for their crops, many were reluctant at first due to past experience with similar ventures.
But Gadam sorghum has now become so popular in the region that some farmers are now reluctant to sell it. The variety is easy to grow and matures early. It thrives under minimum rainfall unlike maize.In addition, it tastes good. Many farmers now prefer to keep it as their staple food.
One sorghum farmer, 67-year-old Mutisya Mwilu, says, “Why should I sell all my sorghum just to start borrowing or begging the next day? This is my energy drink. I feel energetic after taking it.”
Mr. Ndaka farms 12 hectares in Ikaasu, Kathonzweni District. He reluctantly tried the new variety in the October-December 2009 season. And, like other farmers who gave it a try, Mr. Ndaka has never looked back. They are impressed with the performance of the sorghum compared to maize, their preferred food crop until last year.
Despite the poor rains last year, they managed to get a fairly good harvest compared to maize. Mr. Ndaka harvested 17 bags of sorghum from one and a half hectares, compared to only two bags of maize from two and a half hectares.
Most farmers in the area were skeptical about growing sorghum for a specific buyer. Mr. Urbanus Munyao is also from Ikaasu. He says, “I was not sure whether these people were serious. Such promises are not new here and it is not always that they are honoured.”
Mr. Munyao had been growing traditional sorghum. But the first-time yields of Gadam exceeded his expectations. During the October-December 2009 growing season, he harvested 11 bags from one hectare compared to only three bags from two hectares of maize.
Despite the good yields, farmers worried that the company would not honour its promise to buy the sorghum. But soon enough, the farmers were asked to take their stored sorghum to collection centres, where they received their payments.
In addition to the beer manufacturer, the project involves the Ministry of Agriculture and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, or KARI. The project provides certified seeds to farmers. KARI trains seed growers. In addition, the institute buys, processes and packages the seeds. KARI also trains agricultural extension officers, carries out research to improve sorghum productivity and deals with any other constraints to production.
Having overcome initial doubts, farmers now benefit from the good yields, ready market and good prices. But, apart from the beer-making project, many farmers are also enjoying some unexpected benefits of growing Gadam. It is sweet and nutritious when enjoyed at the farmers’ own tables.