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Sorghum Farming Guide 2023

Are you looking for a sorghum farming guide that will help you increase yields? Do you want to know about sorghum production in 2023? If yes, you have come to the right place. This 2023 sorghum farming guide will help you increase yields and identify diseases and pests that can affect your farming business.

Sorghum farming in Kenya is currently done in semi-arid areas of Kenya’s Western, Eastern, and Coastal regions. The government advocates for sorghum farming because it is a traditional High-Value crop. It is a high-value crop because it contains minerals such as Vitamin B, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and iron.  

Sorghum is also a rich source of fiber and antioxidants. The baking industry uses sorghum to manufacture unleavened and leavened bread. Unleavened bread is bread that has been prepared without the use of a rising agent such as yeast.

Similarly, unleavened bread contains small amounts of yeast. 

Sorghum production in Kenya

Sorghum production in Kenya is done on a 197,403-ha piece of land. As of 2022, the country produced 135,000 metric tonnes of sorghum. This is low compared to the production from other countries such as Nigeria and Ethiopia. Nigeria is the largest sorghum producer in Africa, producing 6,725,000 metric tonnes. This is followed by Ethiopia, which had 4,450,000 metric tonnes.

When the production capacity is compared to other crops in the country, sorghum still needs to catch up. Sugarcane has the highest production yields because farmers produced 7,783,303 metric tonnes in 2021. 

History of sorghum in Kenya

The East African community began to research sorghum in the early 1950s. After the East African Community broke, Kenya continued the research in 1970. The study’s main aim was to find ways farmers could increase yields and how to produce drought and disease-resistant varieties. 

In addition, scientists were tasked with developing varieties with good marketing qualities, such as seed color and durability. After all, farmers prefer seeds that can last long because it reduces post-harvest losses. 

Scientists new seed varieties by using various production methods. One of them is conventional breeding or marker-assisted selections. Scientists such as DR C.K Kamau have released hybrid varieties that have helped increase yields. 

Challenges facing sorghum farming

One main challenge facing sorghum farmers is post-harvest losses. Several factors, such as poor handling, improper temperature management, rotting, and diseases, cause post-harvest losses. In the country, post-harvest losses result in 30% of all food loss. 

This translates to more than 400 billion Kenya shillings in losses per annum. It is these losses that scientists believe cause food shortages in the country.

One sorghum organization that helps reduce post-harvest losses is the Kenya Cereal Enhancement Programme- Climate Resilient Agricultural Livelihoods  KCEP-CRAL. This government organization is tasked with reducing rural poverty and food insecurity among smallholder farmers in the country. 

The government is expected to improve smallholder livelihood through profitable and sustainable agricultural production practices.

The nutritional value of sorghum is as follows:

  1. Protein – 8%
  2. Carbohydrates – 76.64%
  3. Fat- 3.34%
  4. Sugar- 1.9%
  5. Fiber- 6.60%
  6. Zinc – 1.63%
  7. Sodium- 3%
  8. Iron- 3%

Ecological requirements of sorghum

Sorghum thrives best in areas with an altitude of 800 – 2500 meters above sea level. The plant requires a minimum rainfall of 250mm per year. However, it will thrive better with a minimum rainfall of 900m per year. 

When planting sorghum in Arid or Semi-arid land, it is advisable to grow it during the short rains {October -November}, and harvest the following year during January – February.

Grain sorghum can grow in different soils, such as loamy, loam clay, and sandy loam soils. Sorghum farmers do not have to worry about the temperature because the plant can grow in regions with temperatures as low as 10 degrees Celcius. However, the best temperature range is between 15 -30 degrees Celcius.

How to identify suitable sorghum seed varieties

When buying sorghum seeds, you need to consider factors such the resistance to pests and diseases, yield potential, maturity period, and standability. Before purchasing any seed varieties, farmers should ensure they have been certified by the government. 

Sorghum farmers should also avoid planting more than two seed varieties on one piece of land. As always, ensure you have a ph soil test done before planting sorghum. Also, do a germination test. It is a good seed variety if the success rate is above 85%. 

How to conduct a seed germination test

It is easy to conduct a sorghum seed germination test. The first thing you need to do is to select the seed varieties that you want. Once you have chosen these seed varieties, choose a good site and prepare two seedbeds.

On each seed bed, make 100 planting stations, and plant 100 seeds on each station. Cover the station with organic fertilizer and water for atleast seven days. After five days, check the germination rate of each bed. The bed with a germination rate of over 85% has the best seed variety.

Site selection and land preparation

Though sorghum can grow in many soils, it thrives better in well-drained loamy soils. However, if the current piece of land does not encourage the growth of plants such as maize and beans, you should refrain from planting sorghum there.

If you need the services of an expert, feel free to book a consultancy service with one of our qualified agronomists in Kenya

One major problem that sorghum farmers face is birds. Therefore, farmers are encouraged to use control measures such as scarecrows and not planting in isolated places. 

It would help if you plowed land immediately after harvesting. You should not remove the previous crop’s residues from the farm to help reduce evaporation and soil surface temperatures. The soil should have a fine seedbed and no large soil boulders.

Sorghum fertilizers

Sorghum farmers can use several strategies to manage soil fertility. The first strategy is to use organic fertilizers/manure. The best fertilizer for sorghum should have nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrients can also be found in inorganic fertilizers. However, inorganic fertilisers do not replenish the soil. They degrade the ground if used for a long time.

When using organic fertilizer, using a starter fertilizer is best. A starter fertilizer helps increase the germination rate of seedlings. The starter manure should be rich in phosphorus and nitrogen. In addition, apply nutrients such as sulfur and potassium. 

Sulfates should be added to the soil at 6 kg per acre. However, remember that a soil test must guide the actual amount. 

According to scientists, most soils in sorghum production areas have phosphorus and nitrogen deficiencies. You should follow the following sorghum fertilizer schedule:

  • You should apply one bag of NPK after planting for every 1 acre planted. The best ratio is 20:20:0 or 23:23:0.
  • After planting, top dressing fertilizer should be applied using one 50kg bag of calcium ammonium nitrate {CAN}.

Sorghum Planting

This plant should be planted when the soil is dry and in furrows. Sorghum farmers should ensure that the planting depth is 2 – 4 cm. 

The recommended sorghum spacing and seed rates are 4-5 kgs per acre. If the seeds are manually planted, the recommended spacing is 75 x 20. However, if sorghum is intercropped with legumes, the recommended spacing is 90 x20 {Single alternate rows}. For double rows of legumes, the recommended spacing is 120 x120.  

Sorghum rotation and weeding

Farmers should practice crop rotation to reduce the build-up of sorghum pests and diseases. Similarly, crop rotation should be done using legumes, not cereal crops such as millet and maize. Maize can infect the farm with a lethal necrosis disease.

Weeding should be done to prevent unwanted crops from competing for food and moisture with sorghum. In addition, weeding helps reduce pests and diseases. Large sorghum farms should consider chemical weeding as its more economical. 

Sorghum Thinning, roguing and ratooning

Thinning reduces germinated seedlings to achieve the recommended space rate of 20cm. Thinning should be done after weeding to ensure damaged sorghum seedlings are replaced. Also, thinning should be done when the soil is moist to ensure minimal disturbance of surrounding roots.

Sorghum roguing removes sorghum plants that might have different characteristics from most planted varieties. For example, if some plants are taller or their flowers have a different color, you should remove them. The main benefit of roguing is that it maintains the genetic purity of the planted crop.

Ratooning uses proper crop husbandry to produce more than one crop from a single sown seed. This means that the crop’s root system is left intact during harvesting so it can produce more.

Ratooning is crucial because it reduces labor and increases the survival rate of the crop. Ratooning helps utilize land resources better.

Sorghum Pest Identification and Management

Sorghum farmers are encouraged to use integrated Pest and Disease management practices. These practices involve the use of biological, chemical, and cultural traditions. These practices also involve the use of resistant and hybrid varieties that are disease resistant. Some common sorghum pests are

Arthropod pests

Arthropod pests are best controlled using biological control methods. For example, you can control the grain borer by using predators and push-pull technology. Push-pull technology is a pest control method that uses a repellent intercrop and a trap plant to repel pests from the cash crop. Other pests that affect sorghum include:


Termite workers attack sowed seeds and whole plants, damaging the stems. If termites are not controlled, they can cause huge losses. The best way to prevent termites is to kill the queen. Farmers can do this by flooding the land and burning plant debris after harvesting. Other termite control measures include using baits laced with termiticides which will be taken by the workers to the colony and kill the termites. 

Sorghum farmers can also pour hot water inside the mound or spray chlorpyrifos products such as Mursban.

Stink Bugs

Stink bugs commonly attack sorghum immediately after the flowering stage. They do this by laying eggs on the plant, which, when they mature, feed on the seeds, reducing the quality and size. 

The best management strategy is to use biological control methods.

Shoot fly

The Shoot fly can reduce yields by up to 5%. The fly is greyish brown and has six spots in the abdomen. The shoot fly is dangerous because when it lays eggs, the eggs hatch as larvae that penetrate the stem feeding the plant from the inside. 

The best way to control the shoot fly is to use sorghum-resistant varieties. Also, farmers should sow the seeds before the rains start. Another way to prevent it is to avoid using manure because the fly is attracted to waste. In addition, farmers should destroy alternative host plants surrounding the sorghum farm. These include plants such as millet, maize, and wheat.

You can also control the Shoot fly by spraying an insecticide such as pyrethroid. 


Leafhoppers are known for their slender green-to-yellow color. The leafhoppers also have two small black spots between their eyes. The pest is dangerous because it transmits the streak virus. If this virus infects your farm, the mortality rate can be as high as 100%. You can tell the plants have been infested by these diseases when they turn pale green to yellow.

The best way to manage this pest is to uproot infected plants before the disease spreads to other plants. In addition, farmers should use sticky green traps to catch the hoppers. Also, farmers should spray their farm with cypermethrin atleast six weeks after planting to protect it from the leafhoppers.

Sorghum stem borers

Sorghum stem borers lay eggs that hatch into caterpillars. The caterpillars then feed on the leaves and burrow into the stems in search of water and nutrients. This causes dead hearts, which reduces yields.

Biological control methods best control sorghum stem borers. In addition, farmers can use push and pull technology by intercropping sorghum with desmodium. You can also use insecticides such as Dipterex to control this pest. 

Sorghum webworms

Sorghum webworms are yellow-greenish in color and have four strips. Mature webworms are hairy and clump up on panicles. They feed on flowers and undeveloped seeds. The best way to manage these pests is to spray the plant with imidacloprid.

Other pests to be wary of include sorghum midges and armyworms. Sorghum midges are characterized by their small, fragile orange-looking gnats. The midges prefer to feed on the seeds of developing plants and pupate in flowers. This destroys pollen, reducing yields. The affected plant has a blasted appearance.

Farmers must destroy alternate host crops around the sorghum farm to manage the midges. Also, you need to practice crop rotation and avoid cereal crops such as maize and millet. During the planting stage, ensure you set deep plows that kill larvae in the soil. Finally, farmers should have light traps that attract the midges at night. 

The armyworm damages the lower and upper leaf tissues of sorghum plants. This exhausts the leaves, reducing yields. Armyworms are managed by either handpicking them on the farm or spraying them.

Sorghum diseases and how to manage them

One main sorghum disease is downy mildew disease. This disease mainly affects sorghum when it is planted in a flooded area. The main characteristic of this disease is that the sorghum leaves have white-greyish ash on the lower side of the leaf. This causes the leaves to mottle, indicating that a virus has infected them.

Sorghum downy mildew disease can be controlled by planting before the rainy season begins or practicing crop rotation with vegetables such as kale. The disease can be controlled by spraying a fungicide known as Ridomil gold. Use 20 liters of water for every 20 gm of Ridomil used. Other common diseases include

Sorghum leaf blight

This disease is characterized by tan or reddish spots on the leaves. The spots enlarge if the disease is not controlled on time. If not controlled, the leaves will turn purplish gray, wither and die. Older leaves may also be affected by long elliptical reddish lesions. These lesions spread from the old leaves to the young leaves.

The disease is controlled by using a copper-based fungicide such as Ortiva or destroying affected crops. To manage the disease in the long run, sorghum farmers are encouraged to practice crop rotation and use resistant seed varieties such as Gadama and Serena.

Common leaf rust

This disease is caused by growing sorghum in moist conditions. Symptoms first appear during the flowering stage in the upper canopy of the leaves. The symptoms appear as elongated bumps that are scattered across the leaf surface.

The bumps are dark brown or red. If the disease is not controlled, the epidermis will rupture, making the lesions black. The black lesions release spores that lower productivity. 

Sorghum farmers can protect their crops by planting leaf rust-resistant varieties and planting before the rainy season begins. Also, farmers should rotate the crop with plants such as chickpeas, faba beans, and beans. It would help if you did crop rotations atleast every 2-3 years.

Sooty stripe disease

Soot stripe infection affects sorghum at all growth stages. It creates tan or reddish-brown strips that become lesions in moist warm conditions. If not controlled early, the lesions will turn gray, black, and sooty. 

The best way to control the sooty stripe disease is to practice crop rotation with crops such as cowpeas, green grams, and beans. 

Best Sorghum Varieties

There are several approved sorghum varieties that you can plant. The first is the KARI Mtama 1 sorghum variety. Mtama 1 is known for its tall crops and cream-white grains. The average yield of Mtama 1 is around 3.8 tons/ha. The crop is not suitable for growing in dry areas and matures in four months. 

The best regions to grow this seed variety is the Western, Central, and Eastern parts of the country. Other seed varieties include

The Serena sorghum seed variety.

The Serena seed variety produces medium-height plants that produce brown grains. The average yield of this variety is around 2.25 tons/ha. Serena is a drought-resistant variety that grows well in the Western and Eastern parts of the country. This seed variety matures in three months. 

Gadam sorghum seed variety

The Gadam variety produces chalky white grains and takes two and a half months to develop. The plant is drought tolerant, making it ideal for dry areas. Gadam has an average yield of 3.15 tonnes/ha.

Another popular sorghum seed variety is the Seredo seed variety. Seredo is a medium-height variety that produces brown grains. It matures in three months, and it is fairly drought resistant.

Sorghum growth enhancers

The two main sorghum growth enhancers farmers can use include Safi foliar and zinc fertilizer. Safi foliar is an organic liquid fertilizer created to replenish nutrient-deficient soils. The fertilizer can either be drenched or sprayed during planting. The benefits of safi foliar fertilizer are:

  • Helps in root development 
  • Adds nutrients to the soil
  • Improves yields
  • It is cheaper when compared to commercial substitutes

Similarly, you can also use a foliar zinc fertilizer. Zinc foliar can be used as a growth enhancer or top dresser. It should be applied around the base of the plant to protect it from leaching.

Sorghum farmers should seek the services of a trained agronomist. When you get in touch with us, we will send an agronomist to your farm to help you identify pests and diseases. The agronomist will also advise you on the best practices to increase yield.


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