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Farmers’ fortunes change as brewery opens

Sorghum farmers in Kisumu county are upbeat of booming agribusiness after the opening of East Africa Breweries Limited (EABL) plant in the area later this year.

A spot check by Agribiz revealed that a number of the farmers are gearing up to supply the raw material to kick-start operations at the Sh15 billion plant in the lakeside town. The farmers have welcomed the revival of the plant, saying it will spur the crop’s productivity and rekindle agricultural production in Nyanza region.

Thomas Okeyo, a farmer at Masogo-Nyangoma in Muhoroni sub-county, says the revival of the KBL plant is good news as it has given him an opportunity to fully diversify to sorghum production from sugarcane, which has since become uneconomical.

Okeyo is encouraging other farmers to shift focus to growing the crop in bid to alleviate poverty. “I now see sorghum growing as a more viable agricultural activity here because of the ready market now guaranteed at the KBL,” says Okeyo.

Another farmer, Erka Otieno, shares similar sentiments. She says with the production of sorghum, they expect an income boost compared to what they earned from growing sugarcane. “Growing sorghum has given us a glimmer of hope to re-embark on serious agricultural production,” said Otieno.

Davis Olang’, treasurer of Sky Village Cooperative Society, says many farmers in Masogo-Nyangoma region are their members. “We have convinced them that will come from growing white sorghum,” he says.

Apart from Kisumu, Kenya Breweries will also source raw materials from sorghum farmers in Migori, Homa Bay, Kisumu, Siaya and Busia counties.

Eliud Kiptoo, East African Maltings Ltd (subsidiary of EABL) Regional Agribusiness Manager, says the brewer expects to start receiving the first batch of crop harvest next month. The crop will come from more than 17,000 sorghum farmers were initially enlisted in Western Kenya ahead of the start of operations at its new plant in Kisumu soon.

Kiptoo says 8,000 tonnes of certified white sorghum seeds were given out to the farmers during the planting season. The seeds are short maturing variety taking about three months to mature. “We target about of 15, 000 tonnes of sorghum from the first batch of production,” he says.

The farmers have also benefitted from free extension services by the experts deployed by KBL. “We engage directly with small- scale farmers, whose farms range from one and three acres, so as to avoid interference by middlemen,” he says.

Under the deal, farmers will earn Sh37 per kilogramme upon delivery of their products to the brewer. “We intend to list more farmers next season so that the plant’s productivity can be sustainably supported,” said Kiptoo.

KBL has appointed aggregators across the region to help collect farmers’ produce for delivery to the plant. However, the brewery might experience a shortfall in raw material production as some of the listed sorghum farmers in parts of Nyando, and Nyakach (Kisumu), Yala (Siaya) and Karachuonyo (Homa Bay county) have had their crops destroyed by floods.

According to KBL managing director Jane Karuku, the multi-billion-shilling refurbished plant is expected to begin production next month. The plant will initially produce Senator Keg made using locally sourced sorghum for the next couple of years after which it will start producing other portfolio brands of KBL.

Speaking during the launch of the project earlier this year, Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o lauded the initiative, saying the move aims at subsidising the cost of agricultural productivity for the farmers.

He assured KBL of his administration’s support for the sorghum cultivation project as it is a boost to the economic growth and food security within the county. “This is a timely project befitting our farmers who will now access farm-gate prices for their products,” he said during a sorghum farmers’ mobilisation forum.

Nyando Holdings Limited Managing Director Clifford Ngwalla, who is the implementer of the project, said it will generate income of about Sh 1 million to the farmers every year.

Ngwalla said they have identified 2,590 sorghum farmers in Kisumu county and will be engaging more. “The success of this project will culminate into the beginning of commercial agriculture in the area. We urge other farmers to embrace this concept,” he said.

Nyando MP Jared Okello assured of a political goodwill to the project, saying it is endowed with economic value to the farmers and the region at large.

According to Joseph Opilla, chairman of a group of farmers owning land in the vast project, which previously lay fallow, will now be put into proper use for the benefit of farmers. “This project is going to be a life changer to many farmers whose efforts to cultivate the land have been deterred by flooding effects,” he said.

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