Sorghum Farming in Kenya
Sorghum farming in Kenya is an important agricultural activity in the economy. Sorghum is grown in western, northern Rift Valley, eastern and some parts of Central Province. The crop is fairly drought resistant and thus it is quite popular in drier areas of Kenya. It is also resistant to waterlogging and yields reasonably well on infertile soils. It can be rationed.
Sorghum grains are ground for flour, which is used for making porridge, ugali or for brewing. Young growing crop may be used as fodder by feeding it to animals directly after wilting for some time or making silage.
Ecological Requirements for Sorghum Farming in Kenya
Sorghum has a well developed rooting system and an ability to roll up its leaves during hot weather. These qualities make the crop drought resistant. Rainfall of 420 mm — 630 mm per annum is adequate for good growth and production, hence the crop grows well in areas below 1500 m above sea level. At higher altitudes, poor yields are obtained and the crop is attacked by pests such as shoot fly and downy mildew disease. The crop requires fairly fertile and well-drained soils.
Sorghum Varieties in Kenya
Sorghum varieties are characterised by seed colour and taste. In this connection, there are varieties which are white in colour and palatable and those that are brown or red and are bitter. There are two notably improved varieties grown in Kenya, these are:
This variety was selected in western Kenya and is suitable for all the areas around the shores of Lake Victoria. Its seeds are brown and mature in about four months.
This variety was selected after crossing Dobbs with a variety from Swaziland. It has brown seeds and matures in about 3% months. There are other varieties being developed by Research Stations. The research is based on characteristics such as taste, disease and pest resistance and yields. Varieties with compact panicles and gooseneck have some resistance to birds’ damage.
Sorghum Farming in Kenya – Other Sorghum Varieties
E6518: Matures in about seven-and-half months.The plant attains a height of 3m. This variety is suitable for fodder.
E1291: Matures in about five months. It grows to 1.7m. The variety is suitable for food and fodder.
Ikinyaruka: Matures in 160 days. The variety is suitable for both food and fodder. It grows to a height of 1.7 metres.
BJ28: Matures in 110 days. It grows to 2.5 metres. The variety is good for food and fodder.
Selection and Preparation of Sorghum Planting Materials
The seeds are prepared by threshing the dry heads, winnowing and seed-dressing.
Sorghum Farming in Kenya – Field Operations
Sorghum is often grown in association with pulses such as pigeon peas and green gram. The row arrangement for the cereal and legume could be a single alternate where a legume falls between two rows of sorghum spaced at 90 cm. Two rows of pulses could also be alternated with two rows of sorghum.
Crop rotation is highly recommended to reduce the build-up of sorghum diseases and insect pests and soil fertility improvement. Rotating of sorghum with other cereal crops like maize and millet should be avoided, especially due to Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease and that there is no soil quality improvement when cereal is planted following another cereal. Cereals like sorghum are rotated with legumes because legumes improve soil quality through biological nitrogen fixation and organic matter addition through litter decomposition. Some legumes improve the soil quality better than others and therefore need to know the right legume to rotate with sorghum.
Weeds reduce sorghum yields by competing for moisture, nutrients, space and light. Weeds are also an alternative host to pests and diseases. The first weeding should be done within 1 to 2 weeks after emergence. Two weedings are recommended. The second weeding is done before topdressing fertilizer is applied about 3 weeks after germination. Chemical weeding can also be done in large-scale farms using recommended herbicides.
Thinning is done when the soil is moist. This ensures minimal disturbance of the roots of the remaining plants for healthy growth. Thin sorghum seedlings and leave 1 plant per hill. It should be done 1-2 weeks after emergence in semi-arid areas. This is best done after first weeding in order to accommodate appropriate plant density adjustments in case some plants are damaged during weeding.
Leaving 2 plants adjacent to it compensates for a gap within the row. Sorghum thinning is done so early to avoid waste of fertilizer to plants that farmer will thin later. To achieve good yields, the vegetative regrowth (tillers) are thinned to ensure 2-3 plants per stool. This ensures the formation of large panicles and high sorghum yields
This is the removal of plants that has characteristics, which are different from the needed variety. Plants taller than the general height of the plant population, whose flower colour deviates from that of the majority of other plants, or with grain colour that is different from the majority of plants should be removed.
Ratooning is a practice of getting more than one crop from single sowing through proper crop husbandry. The well-established root system of the ratoon crop has the ability to utilize environmental resources better than a freshly sown crop. Ratooning reduces labour requirements by minimizing costs such as ploughing, planting and bird scaring associated with migratory birds between July and August. By flowering in April when temperatures are high (> 20 0C),
sorghum avoids poor seed set associated with low temperatures between May and August.
Sorghum Farming in Kenya – Pests and Disease Control
As soon as the sorghum seedling has emerged, established or one week after germination lookout for shoot fly. The yellowish or white maggots bore into the hearts of the shoots and cause characteristic dead heart
Control of shoot fly
• Dry plant or plant early within 7-10 days of onset of rains
• Seed dress with imidacloprid 70
• Increase seed rate 3 to 5 kg/ha
• Spray suitable insecticide e.g. Marshal within 1-2 week after germination and after next 2 weeks
The caterpillars feed inside the stalks killing the growing points (dieback), stunted plant growth, poorly developed ear heads and complete drying-up of plants in severe infestations. The damage and or presence and symptoms of Chilo partellus or Buseolla Fusca appear as three dots along the middle part of leaf length. As for symptoms of bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera) larvae on the leaves, the leaves show long tattered damage with stunted growth for the slow maturing plants.
Control of stalk borer
• Destruction or proper storage of crop residues
• Plant early and improve soil fertility and plant vigour
• Scout for borer infestation and apply suitable chemical such as bull dock star at 1-2 kg/acre, spray with Marshal
at 80mLs per acre or dress with pepper and ash mixtures in the funnels 6 weeks after germination. One or two occurrences of dead hearts of sorghum could either be severe attach of the growth bud by either shoot fly or any of the stem borer species.
Sorghum Farming in Kenya – Harvesting
Sorghum for seed production should be harvested at maturity stage while that meant for fodder can be cut when still green and fresh. Sorghum is ready for harvesting, three to four months after planting. The heads are cut off using a sharp knife, after which they are sun-dried. The dried sorghum is then threshed, winnowed and stored.
To make silage, start harvesting when the grain is at the milky and hardening stage. For dual-purpose sorghum, cut the head with a knife or use a combine harvester.
Sorghum Farming in Kenya – Yields
The yields range from 500-1500 kg per hectare but with good husbandry yields of 3000 kg per hectare could be achieved. Sorghum can be rationed for one or two seasons.
Sorghum Farming in Kenya – Marketing
The crop is marketed through the National Cereals and Produce Board. Private buyers also purchase sorghum directly from farmers.
Sorghum Farming in Kenya – Advantages of Sorghum over maize and other pasture grasses
- It can grow well in both high and low potential areas where maize cannot do well.
- As a fodder crop, it can be used in place of maize for making silage and grain and even as a fresh chopped forage for animals.
- Sorghum can withstand dry conditions (600mm annual rainfall) and remain green at very low moisture level.
- Sorghum can still do well in very poor soils where maize, nappier and other cereals cannot grow.
- The lower leaves of sorghum do not dry as the plant matures, they remain green thus retain a higher crude protein content than maize.
- sorghum can grow again after harvesting the grain. Therefore, the farmers reduce the cost of replanting, land preparation.
Frequently Asked Questions About Sorghum Farming in Kenya
How does sorghum grow in Kenya?
Planting is normally done by broadcasting the seeds on the firmly prepared seedbed. Sorghum is usually sown together with other crops especially maize and beans. It can also be planted in pure stands at a spacing of 60 cm — 15 cm.
Is sorghum farming profitable in Kenya?
In Kenya, sorghum is one of the traditional cereal crops with a wide agro-ecological adaptation and great potential to improve food and nutrition security and to enhance industrial growth.
How do you farm sorghum?
Mix a balanced fertilizer into the bed or row before planting. Sorghum needs soil temperature to reach at least 60°F. In the garden, plant sorghum by hand, 1½ inches deep, in clumps of four seeds per hole. Space the holes 18 to 24 inches apart.
How much is sorghum per acre?
The optimum seeding rate for grain sorghum is about 10 pounds of seed per acre assuming a seed size of 14,000 seeds per pound and 70 percent emergence. Seed size varies from about 13,000 to 16,000 seeds/pound depending on the hybrid.
How long does Sorghum take to mature?
Most hybrids take about three to four months from planting to maturity.
What are the varieties of sorghum?
Grain sorghum comes in red, orange, bronze, tan, white, and black varieties. Red, orange or bronze sorghum are very versatile and can be used in all segments of the sorghum industry. Tan, cream and white colored sorghum varieties are typically made into flour for the food industry.
sorghum farming in Kenya
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