Newsletter Feb1

Drought is wreaking havoc throughout Southern Africa.  For the first time in seven years, South Africa is set to be a net importer of maize.  The farmer organization, GrainSA says the drought had already caused the industry to lose nearly a billion dollars as maize production decreased from 14.3 million tons last year to a mere 9.9 million tons.

Across the continent, African countries are taking note.  Whenever hunger struck, South Africa was the fall-back plan.  The rise of the biofuels industry wiped brought the era of food aid to an end.  There is no more excess maize to be imported from the US and Canada, through the World Food Program (WFP).

The paradox is that sorghum – the fifth most important grain for food use – is now getting attention because of it’s drought-tolerant qualities. Sorghum is the primary cereal in arid and semi-arid geographies and is a staple food for 300 million people in Africa.

The small village of Kiboko in Kenya’s Makueni County, may provide some clues to how Africa should respond to the changing fortunes of maize.  “We have always relied on maize,” says Mr Benson Kyalo.  “But the lack of rains forced us to go back to what we should have been planting all along.” He says sorghum is the miracle crop of Kenya’s Arid and Semi-Arid lands (ASALs).

“Maize has let us down,” says, pointing to the poor crop on his neighbour’s farm.  “With sorghum, you only need a little rain and you have a good harvest.” Farmers alone are not to blame for holding on to maize when sorghum is the obvious solution to the area.  “I live approximately 4 kilometres from the Kenya Agricultural &  Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) station in Kiboko, and I always thought sorghum only grew best within those confines, so when Africa Harvest approached me to set up a demonstration plot, I was hesitant to what I would do after the crop matured.”

Africa Harvest CEO, Dr. Florence Wambugu says “farmers often lacked the knowledge and access to research and extension services.  They are grappling with knowledge on how to fully benefit from their small parcel of lands.” To bridge the gap between research and farmers, “Africa Harvest implements innovative extension approaches designed to uplift communities.”

Mr. Kyalo, for example, was approached by Africa Harvest to a demonstration plot on which various sorghum hybrids and varieties would be grown on his two and a quarter acre land. A total of six hybrids and seven different improved varieties of Sorghum were planted as part of the Sorghum for Multiple Use (SMU) project. These improved materials (hybrid and varieties) were developed by International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), a major partner in the SMU project.

SMU project team engages Mr Kyalo at his farm (L-R) Dr Henry Ojulong (ICRISAT) Nehemiah Mburu and Doreen Marangu (Africa Harvest) and Mr  Benson Kyalo.
SMU project team engages Mr Kyalo at his farm (L-R) Dr Henry Ojulong (ICRISAT) Nehemiah Mburu and Doreen Marangu (Africa Harvest) and Mr Benson Kyalo.

Mr. Kyalo says the possibility of using sorghum to feed his chicken and fish is really what made him curious to allow the demo on his land.  Once he learnt about the feed ratio and how sorghum can be a substitute to maize, rice or wheat bran he was fully committed to the experiment.

“The demonstration plot was set up to encourage farmers to participate in the SMU project, take ownership, use it as a resource centre for their information needs and attend our training,” says Ms. Doreen Marangu, the Africa Harvest SMU Project Manager

“We are seeing the food security shift from being a single crop, maize, to sorghum, which is more suitable to the region because of challenges of climate change,” Ms. Marangu says and adds that “it is clear that climate change and the need to build on-farm resilience forces farmers to be open to change.”

The SMU project is implemented in Kenya and Tanzania with funding from The European Commission (EC) through a grant by International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) whose target is to improve the livelihoods of poor rural smallholder farming households in semi-arid lands.  It is implemented by Africa Harvest in Kenya and in partnership with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Tanzania.

Guiding the success of the project, is a strong public-private partnership strategy  developed with ICRISAT as the lead agency providing  improved sorghum varieties and hybrids for testing in farmers fields as well as capacity building in agronomy,  KALRO  which is involved as a research partnerstesting sorghum materials in various stations in different agro- ecological regions, the County governments of Makueni, Kitui, Tharaka Nithi and Meru, Seed companies, Agro dealers, Farmers,  Aggregators and various end users of quality sorghum grain.

“The demonstration plot was set up to encourage farmers to participate in the SMU project, take ownership, use it as a resource centre for their information needs and attend our training,” says Ms. Doreen Marangu, the Africa Harvest SMU Project Manager

“We are seeing the food security shift from being a single crop, maize, to sorghum, which is more suitable to the region because of challenges of climate change,” Ms. Marangu says and adds that “it is clear that climate change and the need to build on-farm resilience forces farmers to be open to change.”

The SMU project in Kenya and Tanzania was funded by European Commission and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to improve the livelihoods of poor rural smallholder farming households in semi-arid lands.  It is implemented by Africa Harvest in Kenya and in partnership with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics(ICRISAT) in Tanzania.

Dr. C.K. Kamau of KALRO, the project’s research partner focusing on the testing of sorghum materials in various stations in different agro- ecological regions
Dr. C.K. Kamau of KALRO, the project’s research partner focusing on the testing of sorghum materials in various stations in different agro- ecological regions

 

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