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Sorghum growing brews dividends for Nyanza farmers

In Western region, Kenya Breweries is working with more than 15,000 small-scale sorghum farmers from Migori, Homa Bay, Kisumu, Siaya and Busia counties who supply the Kisumu brewery with white sorghum as raw material for production of beer

Sorghum farmers in Nyanza contracted by Kenya Breweries Limited (KBL) are riding on good fortunes after the delivery of the product to the brewer.

A number of the growers who have since harvested and supplied the early crop to the refurbished Sh15 billion KBL plant in Kisumu are counting on huge profits.

Farmers who spoke to Agribiz, said they reaped big after delivering raw materials to the newly rebuilt brewery. At the same time, they have lauded the revival of the plant, saying it has created a gateway for sorghum farmers to sell their produce.

Tom Mboya, a sorghum farmer in Nyando sub-county and chairman of Olasi Mpaka Youth Group, says the revival of the brewery has rekindled sorghum production in the region by providing a ready market for the product.

He says many farmers,  especially women, in the area who are members of the group have fully embraced sorghum cultivation after realising the potential earnings from their first successful production and because of the guaranteed market at KBL. “Most of us (farmers) got a bumper harvest in the just-ended season, which we supplied as raw materials to kick-start operations at the new brewery,” he says.

Mboya says 71 farmers in the group successfully grew sorghum and earned Sh5 million from 127 tonnes on 134 acres farm. “I urge other farmers in Nyanza to also try the crop,” he said.

He says the crop does well in most parts of the region as it is more resilient to the unpredictable weather patterns. “Our farmers now deliver their produce to the brewer directly at the farm-gate through appointed aggregators,” he says.

From the proceeds of the sale of his produce, Mboya has bought a grade cow while other members used their money for other purposes including paying school fees for their children. “A group of 15 young people has been attracted to the business and is ready to be enlisted by KBL next season planting season,” he says.

The next planting season is slated for  March next year when long rains are anticipated. “Our plan is to get more sorghum farmers on board before the onset of next planting season even as we plan to upscale the production,” he says.

Wycliffe Ojal, the coordinator of Chamluchi Group in Nyang’oma, Siaya county, says growing the crop has changed the fortunes of farmers who are the group members. “We started as a group of 53 farmers who decided to venture into sorghum growing and I can assure you the returns are enormous,” says Ojal

James Ndede, another farmer in Siaya who planted an acre last season and got a good harvest, says he plans to expand to six acres in anticipation of raking in more profits from sorghum. On average, the farmers earned Sh37 per kilogramme from sorghum deliveries. They cultivate farms ranging from two to four acres.

Despite the successes, the farmers cited birds menace as a major challenge. Augustine Ombaga said he only harvested 10 tins after birds ate away his crop.  “My farm was largely invaded by the birds. But having learnt my lessons, I will be able to discover ways of containing them to realise a good harvest next season,” he says.

Another farmer, Jashon Abondo, decries the challenge of birds infestation, saying his three-quarter acre plot produced 92 kilos of sorghum. Notwithstanding the menace, Abondo plans to up-scale his production next year to two acres.

Mboya says sorghum production could be the next main staple crop for the region. He challenges county governments to promote sorghum growing among their farmers through the rigorous capacity building. Initially, the farmers got farm inputs and benefitted from free extension services from experts deployed by KBL.

Speaking during a tour of the sorghum farms recently, East African Breweries Limited (EABL) Supply Chain Director Peter Kamugi said management has been impressed by the thousands of farmers recruited to grow the raw material ahead of the opening of the Kisumu Brewery.

Kamugi said the brewer was convinced of better yields in the upcoming season after the first-time sorghum farmers in Western and Nyanza regions had impressive success. “Farmers have worked hard to ensure we have enough sorghum supply to kick-start the factory. We appreciate their dedication and in return, we commit to a stronger partnership with farmer’s groups in the five counties where sorghum has emerged as a cash crop,” said Kamugi.

Plans are scheduled for the commissioning of the Sh15 billion plant whose ground-breaking ceremony was presided over by President Uhuru Kenyatta last year. Currently, final touches in construction and testing of the systems are on-going at the facility ahead of its official launch, but the factory has started producing beer.

Upon completion and launch, the brewery is expected to be a catalyst for economic growth for Kisumu city and neighbouring counties.  It is projected to create over  100,000 direct and indirect jobs through farming, distribution and retail to support its expansive value chain operations.  “We are implementing a ‘West for West’ strategy in our local sourcing of sorghum,”  Kamugi said.

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