Scientists at Egerton University have embarked on a journey to add value to sorghum in a venture aimed at significantly contributing to food and nutritional security and increasing household incomes.
The initiative kicks off following development of five new sorghum seed varieties by the university’s Department of Crops, Horticulture and Soil Sciences that are designed to yield industrial raw materials in the manufacture of alcoholic beverages, bakery products, animal feeds and ethanol.
The project’s Principal Researcher Prof Erick Cheruiyot said one of the new sorghum varieties ‘EUS 130’ is now being used in the manufacture of value added sorghum baked food products after a successful national performance trial conducted by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS).
Through the support of the Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Agriculture and Agribusiness Management (CESAAM), he said the University has premiered the introduction and marketing of sorghum baked food products in Nakuru County.
“The flour from ‘EUS 130’ with a given ratio of wheat flour can produce bread, buns, scones, chapati and mandazi. Sorghumbread is currently available in leading supermarkets in Nakuru city and soon we will extend our market to other counties,” Cheruiyot indicated.
Cheruiyot noted that sorghum does not contain gluten hence blending it with other materials yields highly nutritious and healthy bakery products, The ‘EUS 130’ variety he stated has been designed in a way that it can constitute up to 12 percent of blended raw flour used in baking.
He explained that the sorghum value added products have the lowest starch digestibility thus highly beneficial for people with diabetes as well as those that are targeting weight loss.
“They are the best alternative to wheat flour for individuals suffering from celiac disease (this has symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, gas, anaemia and growth issues). This is because the starch from the sorghum grain is gluten-free,” observed Cheruiyot.
According to him the initiative that was supported by Kenya Agriculture Productivity and Agribusiness Project, which ended last year, was also tasked with developing hybrid seeds that farmers could grow to improve their incomes and livelihoods.
It further resulted in the rollout of ‘EU-SHI 1’ sorghum variety for beer malting, ‘EU-SS-10’ and ‘EU-SS-11’ for production of ethanol and animal feeds and 29 other high-yielding varieties to boost sorghum production as a food crop.
Cheruiyot who is a specialist in crop physiology and a senior lecturer in the Department of Crops, Horticulture and Soils revealed that a team of researchers from Egerton University and scientists from the Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) is currently working on a ‘Super-Feed’ fodder sorghum whose attributes are high energy with sugar-rich stalk, less lignin for improved digestibility and staying green characteristics.
“Despite being a highly nutritious and indigenous crop in Kenya, sorghum products are hardly on the menu or at the dinner table. We are targeting young people such that if they grow eating these sorghum products, these crops will not become extinct,” said Cheruiyot.
He pointed out that the crop is rich in nutrients such as Omega 3, fatty acids, zinc, Vitamins A and E, and calcium while its commercial value is higher than many crops since it grows in drought prone areas and hardly requires massive input to grow.
The researcher indicates that the new varieties are drought resistant and high-yielding making them ideal for arid and semi-arid areas. Most farmers planting sorghum, he notes use previous harvests as seeds, resulting in poor yields.
He said, “80 percent of the country is arid and semi arid, the remaining arable 20 percent is increasingly being strained by rapid population growth and real estate developments. Our sorghum varieties have a rich diversity in uses and adaptation and have been designed to prosper in arid and semi arid regions of the country.”
Women and youth owning at least an acre of land in arid and semi arid parts of 14 counties in Western, Nyanza, parts of Eastern and Lower Coast regions were at the core of the project who via their self-help groups were encouraged to grow sorghum as a commercial venture since local breweries now purchase it as a raw material for beer production.
Sorghum, cassava and millet are some of the crops classified as ‘orphaned’ and which have been neglected by farmers due to lack of certified seeds. The crops have remained unattractive to most farmers yet they have high nutritional value and could be the answer to malnutrition in arid areas.
Nutritional experts state that sorghum is rich in phenolic compounds like tannins which act as antioxidants that protect against cell damage, a major cause of conditions such as cancer. In regards to the mineral content, the crop contains high levels of micronutrients such as iron, zinc, phosphorus, calcium, manganese, sodium, potassium, and magnesium.
“Sorghum farmers in Kenya will only enhance their production if they are sure that there is a ready market for their products,” says Cheruiyot.
A co researcher Prof Joshua Ogando said the project also explored ways of promoting the post-harvest handling of sorghum and processing besides linking farmers to sustainable markets.
Ogendo noted that commercialization of sorghum farming has the capacity of being the important source of cash for the poverty stricken families living in arid and semi-arid areas whose climate does not support cash and food crop farming thereby denying residents the much-needed income.
“Some of the varieties could yield six tonnes per acre and this is a big improvement from the two tonnes by the variety the farmers are using,” said Ogendo.
The researchers brought on board the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi–Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), an agricultural research organization from India.
The researchers have been collaborating with key industrial players such as East African Breweries Limited, Spectre International and major bakeries in the country.
East African Malting Ltd (EAML), a subsidiary of East African Breweries Ltd (EABL) has adopted the new malting sorghum variety, which yields up to 15 per cent higher harvest and is more resilient to the current erratic climatic conditions.
The EABL, which started using sorghum as a raw material for the production of its low-priced Senator Keg in 2009, has been eyeing to increase local sourcing of raw material, which currently stands at 80 per cent.
The brewer has 60,000 small-scale growers on contract in Migori, Homa Bay, Kisumu, Siaya and Busia to grow white sorghum, to ensure steady grain supply.
“We got two varieties from EABL and prioritized one which yielded EU-SHI. The seed went through a national performance trial at the KEPHIS before it was officially released as a certified seed,” added Cheruiyot.
The researchers indicate that they isolated 25 traditional sweet sorghum types in developing a hybrid seed variety that could be used as raw material for manufacture of ethanol.
“We received the 25 traditional seed types from ICRISAT for evaluation. We developed three hybrid varieties which were sent for National seed trials. Two were found to contain the requisite very high sugar stock content for production of ethanol and animal feeds,” explains Ogendo.
All the varieties are also resistant to pests, birds and root lodging during heavy rains and windy conditions and are easy to harvest.
The researchers have also made contributions to a policy paper which has already been adopted by the cabinet which will require all millers to use traditional food crops such as sorghum and cassava in blending their products.
“This will be a huge breakthrough for sorghum farmers in the country if the policy paper is operationalized, noted Ogendo.