Due to changing weather patterns drought tolerant crops such as sorghum can feed people and their animals.
Before the onset of the current rains, many farmers, especially those keeping livestock, had a hard time getting fodder to feed their animals, having exhausted all their pastures and stored fodder. This lack of feed led to a decrease in milk production and less income for farmers. It is not only feed for livestock that is in short supply when the rains are inadequate, even food for people decreases. Farmers have abandoned traditional food crops that could grow even with less rain. Such crops could withstand pests and even diseases.
In view of the changing weather patterns, it is such food crops that people can turn to ward off food shortages and famine. Farmers need to change their attitude and start growing drought resistant crop varieties that can do well within a range of climatic conditions. One such crop is sorghum!
A nutritious food crop
Sorghum is one of Africa’s ancient food crops. Due to its ability to grow in many regions and soils, sorghum holds the key to Kenya and Africa’s food security. The crop is full of energy-giving nutrients, unlike other cereal crops such as maize and wheat. Sorghum has a high concentration of potassium and starch, it is less acidifying and is easily absorbed and tolerated by the sick and diabetics, adults and even children. Traditionally sorghum is used to make ugali and fermented porridge.
It needs less rain
Sorghum can grow in areas with as little as 250 mm of rainfall although it can do better in areas with an average of 600 mm. But in its use as fodder for livestock that we shall look at in this issue. Changes in weather patterns have led to the failure of both maize and Napier grass as the source of fodder for livestock. In order for farmers to meet their fodder requirement they have to rely on drought resistant fodder crops, for instance sorghum. KARI, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture has developed better varieties that can be grown as fodder and for human consumption.
It makes good silage
Sorghum can do well in both high and low potential areas where crops such as maize and Napier grass cannot grow well. As fodder, it can be used in place of maize for making silage. The grain can be used for human consumption. When freshly chopped, this crop can be given to cows, goats, sheep, pigs, and even chickens because it has the same energy levels as maize and other cereals. Unlike old varieties, new varieties of sorghum are not poisonous to livestock but it is important to let it dry for one day before feeding it to livestock.
Sorghum can remain green in dry season when most of the other crops dry up because it can survive when the moisture levels are very low for any plant to grow. It can give farmers an adequate source of fodder when other fodder sources such as maize or even Napier grass fail.
Sorghum produces much more forage than maize. Unlike maize, its lower leaves do not dry out, as the plant matures-they remain green and have higher crude protein content. The magic crop grows again after it is cut for use as fodder and harvesting of the grains, it therefore reduces the costs of replanting, land preparation and time.
How to grow sorghum
Sorghum is easy to plant. For a farmer to get a good crop, they can follow the following simple steps when planting:
Land preparation: For both forage and food varieties of sorghum, it is important to start preparing the land early before the rains following a crop season. The crop does well in fine soils. It can also be grown under minimum tillage conditions where the land is not ploughed and still grow well.
Seed rate and spacing: Farmers can plant sorghum at a seed rate of 2.4–3.3 kg per acre (6–8 kg/ha). Fodder varieties of sorghum should be planted at a spacing of 75 x 10 cm. Varieties meant for feed and grain (those meant for both human consumption and also for fodder) require a spacing of 60 cm x 20 cm. The spacing allows for a higher grain-fodder ratio.
Planting: Sorghum is planted at the beginning of the long rains. Plant the seeds along the trenches (furrows). Seeds should be 3 cm deep when dry planting to avoid germination in false rains, but 2 cm deep if the ground is wet.
Manure application: Well composited manure should be applied during land preparation and worked into the soil. Organic foliar feeds can be applied when the plant is knee high.
Thinning: The crop should be thinned when it is 30 cm high or 30 days after planting, whichever comes first, to ensure a spacing of 10 cm between the rows for fodder sorghum and 20 cm between rows for sorghum meant for both fodder and food.
Weeding: Hand weeding should be done at least twice during growing. A sorghum field should be kept weed-free especially at the early stages of growth.
Pest and disease control: It is important to control cutworms, aphids, shoot fly and stalkborer. Birds like sorghum especially when it is at milky stage; they prefer mostly the white-grained sorghum. Apart from pests, sorghum is fairly tolerant to diseases.
Harvesting: Sorghum meant for feed should be harvested at maturity stage. That meant for fodder can be cut when still green and fresh. Leave it in the sun to wilt for at least 12 hours then chop and feed the animals. For sorghum meant for silage, start harvesting at dough stage (between milky and hardening stage). For dual-purpose sorghum cut the head with a knife or use a combine harvester.
Sorghum varieties and their qualities
|Variety||Maturity Period||Height in Metres||Grain Yield Bags Per Acre||Dry Matter Bags Per Acre|
All sorghum varieties except E6518 can be grown for food and fodder. Farmers interested in buying sorghum seed can contact KARI, Lanet P.O. Box 3840-20100, Nakuru Tel. 0729 883 276. A kg of each variety costs KSh 250.