Sorghum is a versatile crop that can be grown in many parts of the world, including Kenya. It is a drought-tolerant and hardy plant that can withstand harsh weather conditions, making it an ideal crop for farmers in areas with limited rainfall. Sorghum is also a great source of food for both humans and animals, and it has many industrial uses.
However, sorghum farming in Kenya can be a challenging task, especially for farmers who are new to the crop. There are several factors that farmers need to consider when growing sorghum, such as soil type, water availability, and pest management. In this article, we will provide a comprehensive guide on how to grow sorghum in Kenya, covering everything from land preparation to harvesting.
Climate and Soil Requirements
Sorghum is a warm-season crop that requires a moderate amount of rainfall and warm temperatures to grow. In Kenya, sorghum is mainly grown in the semi-arid regions, where the annual rainfall ranges from 400mm to 800mm. The ideal temperature range for sorghum growth is between 25°C and 35°C. Sorghum is drought-tolerant and can survive in low rainfall conditions, making it an ideal crop for areas with erratic rainfall patterns.
Soil is an essential factor to consider when growing sorghum. Sorghum grows well in well-drained soils with good organic matter content. The ideal soil pH for sorghum growth ranges from 6.0 to 7.5. Soil fertility is crucial for sorghum growth, and it is recommended to carry out soil tests to determine the soil’s nutrient content. Sorghum is sensitive to soil compaction and requires well-aerated soils for optimum growth.
It is important to note that sorghum is susceptible to frost and cannot tolerate waterlogged soils. Therefore, it is essential to select a site with good drainage and avoid planting sorghum in areas prone to frost.
Also Read: Challenges Of Sorghum Farming In Kenya
Choosing the Right Sorghum Variety
When it comes to growing sorghum in Kenya, choosing the right variety is essential for a successful harvest. There are several factors to consider when selecting the right sorghum variety for your farm.
Climate and Soil
The first thing to consider is the climate and soil conditions in your area. Different sorghum varieties have different requirements when it comes to temperature, rainfall, and soil type. For example, some varieties are better suited for dry, arid regions, while others thrive in wetter, more humid areas. You should also consider the soil pH and nutrient levels in your field, as some varieties are more tolerant of acidic or nutrient-poor soils than others.
Yield and Quality
Another important factor to consider is the yield and quality of the sorghum variety. Some varieties are known for their high yields, while others produce smaller crops but with better quality grain. You should also consider the intended use of the sorghum, as some varieties are better suited for animal feed, while others are ideal for human consumption or industrial uses.
Disease and Pest Resistance
Finally, it’s important to select a sorghum variety that is resistant to common diseases and pests in your area. This can help reduce the need for pesticides and other chemicals, which can be harmful to the environment and human health. Look for varieties that are resistant to diseases like anthracnose and pests like stem borers and midges.
By considering these factors and choosing the right sorghum variety for your farm, you can increase your chances of a successful harvest and a profitable crop.
Planting and Spacing
Planting sorghum in Kenya requires careful consideration of the soil, climate, and season. The ideal time to plant sorghum is at the onset of the rainy season when the soil is moist and temperatures are favorable. Sorghum prefers well-draining soils with a pH range of 6.0-7.5. Before planting, prepare the land by clearing weeds and debris, and tilling the soil to a depth of 15-20cm.
When it comes to spacing, sorghum plants require adequate space to grow and develop properly. The recommended spacing for sorghum is 60cm between rows and 15-20cm between plants. This spacing allows for sufficient air circulation, light penetration, and nutrient uptake. However, the spacing may vary depending on the variety of sorghum being planted and the prevailing climatic conditions.
It is important to note that sorghum is a crop that can tolerate drought and heat stress. However, it is still important to provide adequate water during the establishment phase. After planting, water the sorghum seedlings regularly until they are well-established. Once established, sorghum can survive on rainfall alone, but it is important to monitor the soil moisture levels and provide irrigation if necessary.
In terms of planting depth, sorghum seeds should be planted at a depth of 2-3cm. Planting at the right depth ensures that the seeds have access to sufficient moisture and nutrients for germination and growth. It is also important to ensure that the seeds are planted at the right time to avoid damage from pests and diseases.
Overall, planting and spacing are critical factors that determine the success of sorghum farming in Kenya. By following the recommended guidelines, farmers can ensure that their sorghum crop grows and develops properly, leading to a bountiful harvest.
Fertilization and Irrigation
Sorghum is a hardy crop that requires minimal fertilization and irrigation. However, to achieve high yields, it is important to provide adequate nutrients and water.
Before planting, it is recommended to apply 20-30 kg/ha of nitrogen, 20-30 kg/ha of phosphorus, and 20-30 kg/ha of potassium. This can be done by using organic manure or inorganic fertilizers. The fertilizer should be applied evenly across the field and mixed with the soil to ensure proper distribution.
Irrigation is critical during the early stages of growth when the crop is establishing its root system. Sorghum requires about 500-600 mm of water during the growing season. In areas with low rainfall, it is important to supplement with irrigation. Drip irrigation is recommended as it reduces water wastage and ensures uniform distribution of water.
It is important to monitor soil moisture levels to avoid over or under watering. Over watering can lead to waterlogging and root rot, while under watering can lead to stunted growth and low yields.
In summary, fertilization and irrigation are critical for achieving high yields in sorghum farming. Proper application of fertilizers and monitoring of soil moisture levels are important for optimal growth and development of the crop.
Pest and Disease Control
Just like any other crop, sorghum is susceptible to pests and diseases that can significantly reduce yields. It is therefore essential to take preventive measures to control pests and diseases. Here are some of the common pests and diseases that affect sorghum in Kenya and how to control them:
1. Stem borer: This is a significant pest that attacks sorghum at the vegetative stage. The larvae bore into the stem, causing wilting and stunting of the plant. To control stem borers, use resistant varieties and apply insecticides such as cypermethrin and chlorpyrifos.
2. Shoot fly: Shoot fly attacks sorghum at the seedling stage, causing drying and death of the plant. To control shoot fly, plant early-maturing varieties and apply insecticides such as dimethoate and carbofuran.
3. Armyworm: Armyworms attack sorghum at the flowering stage, causing defoliation and significant yield loss. To control armyworms, apply insecticides such as chlorpyrifos and carbaryl.
1. Anthracnose: Anthracnose is a fungal disease that attacks sorghum at any stage of growth, causing leaf spots, stem cankers, and grain discoloration. To control anthracnose, use resistant varieties and apply fungicides such as mancozeb and chlorothalonil.
2. Downy mildew: Downy mildew is a fungal disease that attacks sorghum at the flowering stage, causing leaf yellowing and stunted growth. To control downy mildew, use resistant varieties and apply fungicides such as metalaxyl and mancozeb.
3. Head smut: Head smut is a fungal disease that attacks sorghum at the flowering stage, causing head distortion and significant yield loss. To control head smut, use resistant varieties and apply fungicides such as triadimefon and carbendazim.
Harvesting and Storage
Harvesting sorghum should be done when the seed heads turn brown and start to droop. The leaves will also start to dry up, and the moisture content of the plant will be around 20-25%. Harvesting should be done early in the morning or late in the evening when the plant is less likely to lose moisture. It is important to cut the stalks as close to the ground as possible to prevent the loss of seeds and to minimize the amount of stubble left in the field.
After harvesting, the sorghum should be threshed to remove the seeds from the stalks. Threshing can be done by hand or by using a machine. If using a machine, it is important to calibrate it properly to avoid damaging the seeds. The seeds should be cleaned to remove any debris and broken seeds.
The sorghum seeds should be stored in a cool, dry place to prevent spoilage. The ideal storage temperature is between 10-15°C with a relative humidity of 50-60%. It is important to protect the seeds from pests and rodents by storing them in airtight containers. The seeds can be stored for up to 12 months if stored properly.
It is important to note that sorghum seeds can be used for various purposes, including food, animal feed, and biofuel. Therefore, it is important to store the seeds properly to maintain their quality and ensure they are suitable for their intended use.
Sources: Okeyo, Samuel O., et al. “Analysis of the determinants of farmer participation in sorghum farming among small-scale farmers in Siaya County, Kenya.” Scientific African 10 (2020): e00559. Link: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2468227620302970
Muui, C. W., Reuben M. Muasya, and D. T. Kirubi. “Baseline survey on factors affecting sorghum production and use in eastern Kenya.” African journal of food, agriculture, nutrition and development 13.1 (2013): 7339-7353. Link: https://www.ajol.info/index.php/ajfand/article/view/85324