Our award-winning reporting has moved

Context provides news and analysis on three of the world’s most critical issues:

climate change, the impact of technology on society, and inclusive economies.

Part of: Farmers adapt to climate change
Back to package

Go for sorghum, say climate-smart Kenyan farmers

by Christine Wangari | ICRISAT
Monday, 23 February 2015 07:41 GMT

Members of a farmers group in Wote, Eastern Kenya, evaluating their sorghum trial field. Photo: Christine Wangari, ICRISAT

Image Caption and Rights Information

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Higher prices, more nutrition - what's not to like?

Sorghum assures us of nutritious food for our families as well as cattle; sorghum fetches a better price than maize and gives more yield per acre. Sorghum has changed our lives for the better… say farmers in Wote, eastern Kenya, who have adopted sorghum-legume technologies instead of the traditional maize-bean intercrop. The farmers were addressing a group of journalists who visited their farms recently.

“Sorghum adapts well to a wide range of environmental and soil fertility conditions and is considered to be one of the ‘Climate Change Ready’ crops. Also sorghum and legume cropping systems have inherent resilience to drought and therefore enhance food and nutrition security for households in the drylands,” said Mr Patrick Sheunda, Research Assistant, ICRISAT.

Wote faces a grim food security situation. According to a 2012 report released by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), only 2% of the households in Wote were food secure throughout the year. Farmers in this area struggle to wrest a meager living from farming as they are adversely affected by drought, a situation made worse by climate change and land degradation.

Based on these findings, a group of partners which included the Kenyan Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO); the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Government of Kenya; and ICRISAT introduced sorghum and two legume crops (cowpea and green gram), with inherent resilience to drought, to improve the livelihoods of poor smallholder farmers. The project has so far reached 366 farmers in Wote, who have adopted the sorghum-legume cropping system.

The released sorghum, cowpea and green gram varieties were used for demonstration of different combinations of intercropping and fertilizer use. These varieties were sourced from ICRISAT and KALRO for evaluation in collaboration with the private sector.

“The participatory trials were maintained and evaluated by the farmers until harvesting. The farmers were supplied with fertilizer, pesticides and fungicides for experimentation; and they were trained on proper agronomic practices and crop protection,” said Ms Rachel Kisilu, breeder at KALRO.

The project uses the ‘mother and baby’ trial approach where farmers organize themselves into groups, with the ‘mother’ being the group leader whose farm is used as a learning ground for the ‘babies’ who are the group members. Each ‘baby’ gets to practice and implement in their own plots what they learn from the ‘mother’.

“Each mother trial consisted of six sorghum-legume intercrops and a maize-bean intercrop as a control. The idea was to get the farmers to see for themselves that maize and beans are not really suitable for their area,” said Ms Kisilu.

At the end of the first season (2013), the farmers selected the Seredo sorghum variety and cowpea as the best performing intercrop. In the 2014 season, the project sought to scale out the technologies to more farmers in Wote and Kathonzweni area, by planting more mother trials at Kathonzweni and increasing the baby trials in both areas.

Mr John Muasya, leader of the Kwamboo self-help group talks about the benefits of sorghum farming. “There are 44 farmers in my group and each of us was trained under this project. After a lot of evaluation, we have seen that sorghum is a lot more productive than maize. In the past we were trying to convince ourselves that even if our maize is failing, at least we get to feed our cows with the stalks, but this was not our initial intention. We farm so that we can have food for our families. With sorghum, fortunately, we are assured of food for our families as well as cattle. Sorghum is also very nutritious. Our doctors are encouraging diabetics to eat sorghum.”

“In my quarter acre of land, I harvest at least four to five bags of sorghum, which is a great improvement from the one bag of maize that I would get. Sorghum also fetches a better price compared to maize. One kg of maize fetches about Kshs 15-18 (US${esc.dollar}{esc.dollar} 0.16–0.20), while one kg of sorghum can fetch about Kshs 28 -30 (US${esc.dollar}{esc.dollar} 0.31-0.33). We have sorghum aggregators who come to collect grains from our homes, and we therefore don’t have to incur transportation costs which we would have to bear when selling maize. We have opened a bank account as a group where we keep our savings to help members pay school fees for their children and do other things.”  “If you want to get out of poverty and hunger, you must grow sorghum and stop insisting on planting maize, which is not working for our area", he adds.

For more information on sorghum, visit:  http://exploreit.icrisat.org/page/sorghum/882

Project partners: Kenyan Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization; Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Government of Kenya;  and ICRISAT

This project is funded by CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.


For more information about this project, please contact Dr. Eric Manyasa (ICRISAT) on e.manyasa@cgiar.org and Dr. Rachel Kisilu (KALRO) on rkkisilu@gmail.com