Feb 22, 2018 Last Updated 2:37 PM, Apr 10, 2017

Sorghum, unapped gold in Uganda

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Whilst Many Ugandan Farmers Continue To Reap Big From Various Crop Enterprises, Many Have Not Been Able To Transform Themselves Out Of The Subsistence Mode To The Commonly Anticipated Agribusiness Mode, Thus Has Been A Result Of Wrong Selection Of Enterprises.

However, one of least adopted crops that earn many farmers millions is sorghum. According to many researchers, sorghum has been referred to as the untapped goldmine in the agriculture sector, despite many organizations trying to promote sorghum, the crop intake still needs to be spread out to enable many farmers tap into the opportunities.

Sorghum originated in Africa, particularly the Sudan region of the Horn of Africa. To- day, grain sorghum is the fifth most important cereal in the world. In Kenya, it is grown on about 171,000ha across the country. Due to its wide adaptation, it is grown in most parts of the country especially the semi areas regions. Nyanza Province leads in produc- tion, followed by Western and Eastern in that order. Other areas are in North Rift valley, Coast, North Eastern and Central provinces. Sorghum is used for food, fodder, Starch extraction and production of alcoholic bever- ages. Because of its superior drought tolerance, better economic returns may be expected from grain sorghum than from maize in marginal and arid areas. As rainfall reliability and distribution become more and more challenging, sorghum can be an alternative cash crop in dry lands of Kenya.

ADAPTABTIBILY The superior drought tolerance of grain sorghum in comparison with most other crops, especially maize, may be attributed to the following factors:

(a) Grain sorghum has the ability to “mark time” during a period of stress (developmen- tal elasticity). In this way moisture uptake is reduced and physiological development is delayed. After good rains the crop recovers rapidly and development is resumed. If the main stem has been severely damaged by stress, the plant will compensate by ratooning producing factional tillers

(b) The stems and leaves of sorghum are covered with a waxy layer and have a corky cuticle which helps reduce water loss thereby withstanding desiccation during periods of low soil moisture.

(c) Leaves have the ability to roll thereby reducing surface area effectively slowing down transpiration rate.

(d) The sorghum rooting system is more dense and continuously growing (regenerative) during the crop growing period making it more effective in exploring for soil moisture even under low soil moisture pressures compared to that of most cereals and especially maize.

(e) Compared to maize, sorghum plant has a smaller leaf area, heavy and waxy cuticles covers the leaves surface making them better adapted to high temperatures and effective in controlling transpiration during warm conditions. Furthermore, sorghum is a more effec- tive translocator of nutrients from source (leaves) to sink (panicle) during grain filling stage 5 under stress condition compared to most cereals making it more tolerant to post fl owering stress.

(f) Grain sorghum has the ability to compensate by producing effective tillers in the event of damage to main plant and also by producing larger panicles in case of low plants population or improved production conditions.

Climatic Requirements
(a) Grain sorghum is well adapted in areas with rain- fall of 250-1250mm per growing season. However, a low night temperatures of below 15oc or minimums of 18oc greatly affect seed setting.
(b) Germination takes 3-4days after planting on well watered soil conditions. Low soil temperatures below 20oc tend to slow germination. Sorghum is more sen- sitive to low soil temperatures than maize.
(c) Ideal growing temperature is 23 - 35ºC with a minimum of 18ºC and maximum above 45oc. How- ever, grain sorghum can withstand high temperatures better than most other crops.

Low Temperatures during pollen development- Boot stage
(a) During the Boot stage (a period when fl ag-leaf is swollen), just before the developing panicle becomes visible, the sorghum plant is sensitive to low tempera- tures. This is the period during which pollen is fully developing. Studies in this regard have shown that at temperatures of approximately 10ºC the normal development of pollen grains is affected to such an ex- tent that sterile pollen is produced. Low temperature at this stage of the panicle development does not af- fect the female component of the flower.

(b) Sorghums timing should be done in such a manner as to avoid crop fl owing during months of June, July and August in areas which experience low tempera- tures during these months. Low Temperatures during the Grain Fill Period Low temperatures during grain fi lling stage has the following effect on performance of sorghum crop

Lowers yield potential and prolong period of grain filling:
(a)Sorghum plant requires a maximum daily temperature of 25 - 35ºC (Turkana and much of north eastern Province sor- ghum germplasm requires 35- 45oC growing condition) for optimal grain production. Low temperatures reduce yields, it is therefore important that planting dates are chosen in such a way as to attain filling stage when con- ditions are favorable conditions.

Heat Unit
Sorghum requires high heat unit for proper development. If ade- quate heat is not attained, plants get stunted, grassy in growth character and yields are greatly reduced Light Intensity and Sorghum Production The second important aspect, which affects yield potential and is often overlooked, is the num- ber of sunlight hours, which occur during the growing season. In this regard two growth stages are of importance: Boot stage – full panicle emergence) Reduction in the number of sunlight hours can cause the development of fewer grain kernels, which in-turn affects ultimate yields. Milk stage to Soft Dough Stage During this period suffi cient sunlight is required to ensure good grain mass. Excessive cloudiness during this stage affects grain mass considerably. It is under these conditions that realized crop yields get reduced and become poorer than expected.

Soil Requirements
(a) Sorghum adapts to a wide range of soils provided the soil fertility is reasonable. Good yields may be produced on soils with a pH of 4.5 - 8.5 and it can withstand a certain amount of salinity.
(b) Sorghum can be grown with greater success than maize on less fertile soils, shallow soils, heavy turf soils and soils subject to water-logging. (Note that this is not because the crop doesn’t need good growing conditions, but due to its good ability to scavenge for nutrient and regen- erate after water logging to give a good yield).
(c) Heavy soils produce the best yields in good seasons, but dur- ing times of stress sandier soils are better; however, during a normal drought, sorghum will still produce satisfactory yields on soils with high clay content.
(d) Sorghum is more sensitive to aluminium toxicity than maize and should not be planted on very acid soils.
(e) Striga has the ability to re- duce sorghum yield by up to 100%. Only sorghum varieties showing tolerance or resistance to striga should be grown in Striga prone areas common in lake regions of general western Kenya and parts of north coast Kenya. Farmer preferred sorghum vari- eties in these areas have varying rates of tolerance (carrying ca- pacity) to Striga and gives appre- ciable yield performance under above normal Striga infestation. KARI sorghum improvement program is currently at advanced stages of testing striga resistant varieties for striga prone envi- ronments.</p>

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