A Look at Sorghum Farming and Banana Wine in Meru
Meru county farmers recently came together to form a cooperative union that will enable them to access financial assistance and advice as they seek to put more of their farms under the production of bananas.They also seek to add value to the bananas by way of processing into a more refined product, banana wine.
More than 7000 hectares of land have now been put under banana production and this has put the county at the top rank of banana production in Kenya.
The Kenya Bureau of Standards also granted the farmers a license to produce beer from banana, a separate license will be provided to authorize the sale and consumption of banana wine and juice.
Mwirigi Karinga, the chairman of the banana-fronteering-platform, stated that their plan is also to establish more factories for the production of banana juices, wines, flour and beer to cater for the huge supply of bananas in the county.
Innovation and application of good practices of banana farming have led to the sharp increase in banana production in Meru County.
Among the farmer unions are Kaaria Banana farmers which manufactures banana crisps which they distribute to resellers such as supermarkets, shops and other small scale vendors.
Icobo farmers cooperative, a farmers body based in Imenti South produces banana flour which has various uses including use as a flavouring agent for food and for food preparation for Githeri,porridge and Chapatti.
Yet another crop that is emerging as a savior for farmers and the alcohol industry is sorghum,this has been supported by the harsh weather that has been experienced in the country as experienced in late 2016.Farmers are moving away from maize and other conventional crops due to their inability to be resistant drought.Government statistics show that well over 1 million Kenyans were affected by the drought.This is an alarming fact for food security in Kenya considering that the country`s main economic activity is agriculture.
According to an international body that conducts research on crops,ICRI those farmers who planted drought resistant crops e,g sorghum will experience far much more harvest that their counterparts who have stuck to non-drought resistant crops like maize and others.For example one hectare of land is expected to produce at least 8 bags of sorghum,while for the same size if land only a single bag of maize is expected.
Several years back,sorghum was not in high demand and supply as it is right now.The change has been brought about by its inclusion as a raw material by the Kenya Breweries Limited and also its drought resisting ability.Its popularity is fast passing that of the previously highly sought after crops; maize,wheat,rice and barley in that order.
Sorghum farming is most popular in the western parts of Kenya e.g Siaya, Homa Bay, Migori, Kisumu and Tharaka Nithi due to the favourable weather conditions,availability of huge tracts of land and cheap labour.
The Kenya Breweries Limited has played a key role in the increase of supply and demand of sorghum since its decision in 2009 to include it as a raw material in its brewing process alongside barley.Its inclusion also achieved several goals for the brewery as sorghum comes cheaper than barley hence operational and brewing costs reduced drastically.Food security efforts were also boosted while farmers found a reliable source of revenue.
Sorghum farmers that have been contracted by the brewer benefit by getting training courses on new and improved techniques of farming, harvesting equipment and best periods to harvest, handling and storage practices etc.
High quality seeds are also given to farmers to assure them of bumper harvests. For example in Jul 2017, farmers received a new sorghum seed of high quality from EAML subsidiary of EABL.
This seed is said to deliver 15% higher yields and is even more drought resistant.
The new seed is also unfriendly to pest and birds can withstand heavy rains and is easier to harvest using the respective harvest machinery.
The commercial production of the high quality seed kicked off well to supplement the high demand of senator Keg in the country.The production plan for sorghum is set to be at 40,000 tonnes in 2018 up from 30,000 tonnes in 2016.
The Kenya Brewery Limited has also committed themselves to sourcing 80% of their sorghum inputs from local farmers. This move also assures farmers of a ready market for their produce, one of the major challenges for Kenyan farmers.
A solid chain of committed farmers, research institutes, seed distributors, financial services providers and other stakeholders has ensured that the quantity and quality of sorghum is improved.
Kenya Breweries Limited is committed to over 30,000 sorghum farmers, 17,000 Senator Keg outlets that sell Senator Keg directly to the final consumers and more than 100 distributors of Senator Keg.
According to Dial A Drink Kenya,a startup that specializes in alcohol delivery in Kenya the demand for senator Keg continues to rise steadily due to its low price and availability even in rural areas.
Sorghum farming has easily been taken up in Kenya due to the unique characteristics of the crop:
- Ability to survive under dry conditions (600mm of annual rainfall).
- Does well in low moisture and poorly fertilized soils.
- Possesses more forage than maize and its counterparts.
- Due to the more forage it nurtures, its saves costs and time used in land preparation, replanting etc. It also improves on food security.
With all the technical and resource assistance that the farmers are getting from the government and other stakeholders,food security and agriculture as a source of income for local farmers will continue to be more viable.
The assistance makes the hard economic times and the unpredictable weather patterns even more bearable to the farmers.