More than 15,000 farmers contracted to supply the Kenya Brewery Limited plant with sorghum are angling for bigger returns following plans to mechanise farming.
With a ready market for more than 15,000 tonnes of sorghum at the keg brewery annually, aggregators appointed to bulk the grain used in brewing keg beer have roped in the World Food Programme (WFP), the Cereal Growers Association (CGA) and financial lenders to improve productivity.
Clifford Biko, the managing director of Nyando Holdings Limited, one of the largest aggregators for farmers in Kisumu and Homa Bay, said the shift was informed by poor harvest.
Kisumu farmers, who were expected to supply the brewery with 15,000 tonnes of the grain, only took to aggregators 6,000 tonnes. Only 1,200 acres of a potential 5,000 acres mapped for cultivation was farmed, according to Biko, who is also the CGA interim chairman.
“We realised that productivity was way too low. Whereas we expected yields of up to 1,500 kilos, an equivalent of 16 bags of 90kg, only 400kg was realised (four bags) on average,” he said.
He went on: “Our observation was that this resulted from poor agricultural practices which are expected with the introduction of a fairly new crop. Land preparation, for example, was relatively poor across the region as was use of fertiliser and management of pests and diseases.”
To reverse this, he said, officers from CGA and WFP were already meeting farmers to train them on good practices which could see their returns triple from the next season, which starts in January.
Among the measures are bloc farming, mechanised land preparation, using better seed varieties, pesticides and fertiliser. “Sorghum is a light seed and if harrowing is not done or not done properly, productivity starts to decline. Although it does not require a lot of attention, once you go commercial you must use the right fertiliser at the right time and manage all pests and diseases for maximum yield,” he explained.
He said amalgamation of farms to form large plantations was necessary to lower effects of the grain-eating bird and make extension services more convenient.
Planned commercialisation has also attracted financial service providers Musoni Microfinance, Equity and Smep Banks which are floating “affordable financial support” to help finance inputs.
Meanwhile, the brewer has started recruiting retailers of its sorghum beer brewed at the Kisumu plant as it positions itself as the largest employer in the region.
Up to 100,000 jobs are expected in the value chain of the Sh15 billion KBL investment located near Kisumu’s downtown.