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Local Sorghum Breaks Through Into Uganda Industrial Breweries

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Samuel Edimu, a farmer in Soroti district, grows sorghum on 10 acres of land.

Edimu, who used to grow maize, said he switched to sorghum when its demand suddenly rose way beyond that of maize, due to the rise of the beer manufacturing sector during the early 1990s.

“Maize was a good cereal due to its daily consumption across all regions, but somehow, epuripur sorghum’s price overtook maize because of the breweries. I have no regret for swapping from maize farming to sorghum growing, it brings in more income,” he says.

Edimu says the revenue from epuripur has enabled him to buy three more acres.

He says he now farms on seven acres. Edima has also moved from a grass-thatched house to one of iron sheets roof and that his children are going to one of the best schools in Soroti.

Epuripur breakthrough

Chris Balya, the general manager of Afro Kai, the company which contracts the epuripur seeds to farmers, says with a steady supply of about 5,000-7,000 tonnes of the sorghum variety, sh2.1b would be invested directly into the farmers annually.

In the first season of 2006, Afro Kai had 5,492 metric tonnes. That year, the farmers exceeded the projection by 3,264 tonnes.

“Nile Breweries wanted to build a buffer stock that can last for six months after the season. I was given targets for the sorghum and I exceeded them by 145%. This means the breweries can run comfortably. The project is successful because of the continued steadiness of the price they pay every season without cheating anyone, hence creating honesty and trust,” Balya said.

The breweries pay instantly to farmers and this has motivated them to increase the quantity of sorghum grown.

Epuripur has helped in the commercialisation of agriculture in Soroti, Lira, Masindi and Apac.

One successful farmer, Nelson Okitoi, who grows epuripur on seven acres, says he has two harvests in a year, which yield about sh2.6m. Nile Breweries announced plans to inject $4m (sh7.4b) in capital projects to help keep pace with the demand for Eagle Lager.

The Government also scrapped excise duty on beer made from local raw materials to encourage innovation with local ingredients and prices within consumers’ reach.

Moses Musisi, a brew specialist at Nile Breweries, says Epuripur is preferred in beer production because it is a natural crop, which is readily available in the country.

From the 1990s, several farmers have joined the growing of sorghum in the eastern region, while others still follow the same trail to date.

According to a 2010 report by Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), sorghum has become the third most important cereal food crop after maize and finger millet in East Africa. Because of the commercialisation of the crop, over 25,000 farmers in the eastern region are believed to be engaged in growing sorghum.

Sorghum is a good income and food security crop for drought-prone regions of Uganda. It is grown in almost all zones, with the northern region being the highest producer, followed by eastern, western and, lastly, central.

It is also, sometimes, used as a feeding ingredient for livestock feed as sole or mixed with brewer’s mash. The mash is a good laxative feed for lactating cattle, which results in increased milk production.

However, according to Dr James Ambrose Agona, the director general at the National Agricultural Research Organisation, productivity of sorghum in the country is still low because many farmers do not follow the recommended agronomic practices.

He also noted that broadcasting is the common practice of sowing sorghum, yet row planting at a spacing of 60x20cm or 60x30cm would result in high productivity.

“Farmers also make a big mistake of only weeding without application of fertilisers or spray, to control diseases and insect pests, such as shoot fl ies or stem borers,” he says.

Post-harvest practice

 According to Annet Alok, a sorghum farmer in Serere district, the best practice for sorghum would be to dry it on a tarpaulin, cemented ground or well swept bare ground for those who cannot afford improved materials.

“The sorghum should be dried to about 12% moisture content before threshing or storage,” she says. She adds that farmers store unthreshed sorghum for use as seed in the following season above the fi replace in the kitchen while grain sorghum is stored in granaries either threshed or unthreshed.

Balya also teaches that the granaries constructed on raised platforms with rat guards should be checked regularly, to make sure the sorghum is not affected by moulds.

Epuripur research

Before Nile Breweries and Serere Animal and Agricultural Research Institute (SAARI) partnered to test the epuripur variety of sorghum, the crop was looked at as merely a food crop in Teso region.

Four years later, it had turned into a cash crop. According to Johnnie Ebiyau, a retired senior research officer, epuripur sorghum was bred at the National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute (NASSARI), in Serere district, 21km south of Soroti town.

“Epuripur is used basically to brew Eagle and Senator lagers, all by Nile Breweries Limited. We worked on it in Serere. Sorghum took the biggest percentage of attention, given its use in brewing beer and consumption as food by both human beings and animals,” Ebiyau, a sorghum expert, said.

He said he was happy that sorghum, mostly epuripur, is earning farmers good money in his home region of Ngora, in Kumi district, and throughout the Teso sub-region.

Epuripur is mainly grown in the southwestern highlands and lowland areas of eastern and northern regions of Uganda.

According to a SAARI report, samples of six sorghum varieties were collected in 2001 and taken to South Africa for grain-quality analysis and trials on a pilot brewing plant in Johannesburg.

This process involved the use of exogenous enzymes, which are added to the mash to achieve starch conversion and to yield a fermentable extract.

Sorghum proved to be a useful alternative to some of the beer ingredients, but the dominant varieties of red sorghums, were unsuitable for beer brewing purposes.

Ebiyau worked on improving sorghum varieties, most especially brown and white varieties, which were better suited for the brewery industry.

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