Brewer seeks partners to lift sorghum production

Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri pours himself a glass of Senator Keg when he toured the Kisumu Brewery during a test-run on July 19, 2018. Looking on is EABL Group CEO Andrew Cowan (Left) and EABL Group Chairman Charles Muchene (Right). COURTESY

Kenya Breweries Limited (KBL) is looking for partners to help strengthen sorghum production in western Kenya to sustain its Sh15 billion keg plant in Kisumu.

It is seeking partnership with financial lenders and firms that can help smallholder farmers improve yields through better agricultural practices ahead of the planned launch of the one million-litre brewery.

The move, according to KBL Head of Sustainability and Engagement Jean Kiarie, is part of efforts to fulfill the company’s pledge to locally source the grain used as the main raw material in the production of the its flagship low-end beer, Senator Keg.

Commercialisation of sorghum farming is expected to lift productivity per acre to a potential 1,500 kilogrammes, shifting focus from acreage under the crop and numbers of farmers to productivity.

KBL, through East Africa Maltings Limited (EAML), is looking to recruit up to 15,000 farmers in the region to supply the Kisumu plant.

Nyanza and Western farmers are expected to supply the brewery with 15,000 tonnes of the grain in the first two seasons. Nyanza delivered 6,000 tonnes as only 1,200 acres of a potential 5,000 acres mapped for cultivation was farmed in the first season.

Ms Kiarie described the harvest as a great achievement “given that it was the first time many of the farmers were trying the white sorghum for the first time and were a bit skeptical on what to expect.”

The new approach has also roped in the Cereal Growers Association to help train the farmers on the best practice for maximum returns.

“Our observation (of the first season) was that this can be improved through better agricultural practices,” Kiarie said.

She said mechanisation of land preparation, proper use of recommended fertilisers, good management and extension services in the coming season would greatly improve yields and incomes in the region, attracting more farmers.

She said some of the partners drawn into the partnership were already meeting farmers across the region to train them on good practices, which could see their returns triple from the next season that starts in January.

Among measures EAML is rooting for include bloc-farming and to push yields from 400kg of sorghum per hectare to about 1.5 tonnes.

“Sorghum is a light seed and once harrowing is not done at all or not done properly, productivity starts to decline at that point,” says the company.

“Although it does not require a lot of attention, once you go commercial you must use the right fertilizer at the right time and manage all pests and diseases for maximum yield.”  

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