Use of non-certified seeds by Kenyan farmers has led to reduced sorghum yields in the country, new studies have revealed.
This is against the background that between 2016 and last year, 75 new sorghum seed varieties were introduced into the market in a bid to boost production of the crop.
The research, conducted by East African Breweries Limited indicated that 87 percent of farmers planted local variety seeds usually retained from the previous harvest and certified seeds accounted for only 13 per cent of the total sorghum cultivation.
The on-farm saved seeds whose quality was not assured yielded about 0.7 tonnes per hectare compared to a potential of 2.8 tonnes per hectare for certified seeds.
The research indicated that Kenya produced 144, 000 metric tonnes of sorghum in 2017 and imported 133, 000 metric tonnes to curb the deficit while Ethiopia leads the region with over 280, 000 tonnes. Uganda yielded 170, 000 tonnes while Tanzania had 155, 000 tonnes.
Sorghum production in the country has over the years plummeted and largely remained non-commercialized with the majority of farmers producing only for home consumption.
Towards revitalizing the crop, the government through the Ministry of Agriculture initiated Gaddam sorghum production on a commercial scale in a Public- Private-Partnership (PPP). Farmers were sensitized on how to commercialize sorghum and its potential benefits.
Currently, Kenya Breweries Limited (KBL) is the new face of sorghum commercialization in Kenya, supporting more than 60, 000 farmers on contract basis to farm the crop.
The brewer requires more than 60, 000 metric tonnes of the crop annually which it uses to produce some of its alcoholic beverages.
A separate survey conducted by Egerton University’s Tegemeo Institute of Policy and Research anchored on a nationally representative sample indicated that a mere 15 percent of farmers were using improved sorghum seeds.
In addition, cultivated land area under improved sorghum varieties was only 15 per cent.
The study calls for an efficient and well-functioning extension system which is critical for sorghum production to thrive.
By Anne Mwale