Improving farmers’ livelihoods through upscaling best performing sorghum varieties for seed production and commercial products in western Kenya

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Focus Region:
Sub-Saharan Africa
Focus Topic:
Agricultural Value Chains / Agri-Businesses
Climate / Weather / Environment

Farmers in Nyando, Kakamega and Vihiga, Western Kenya, are benefiting from the interventions of two seed system focused projects. The first project, Promoting open source seed systems for climate change adaptation in Kenyan, Uganda and Tanzania, led by the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, aimed to facilitate adaptation to climate change by introducing new diversity of sorghum, finger millet and common bean, sourced from the National Genebanks of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. 

It was funded by the Benefit Sharing Fund of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. In 2019, the project successfully introduced and tested 48 sorghum and 52 finger millet varieties in Nyando, Kenya, through a citizen science approach using crowdsourcing and participatory varietal evaluation and selection. Nyando farmers selected the best 10 sorghum and 10 finger millet varieties based on an assessment of their performance and related agronomic traits.

After the successful selection of best performing varieties, funding from the CGIAR research program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC) supported the project, Upscaling best performing varieties of sorghum for seed and production and commercial products to generate incomes for farmers. The objective was to upscale and commercialize selected varieties of sorghum and finger millet through the establishment of production units, new product creation and establishment of product value chains. The project was led by Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), Kenya, in collaboration with the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT.

Sorghum multiplication and dissemination of quality seed to farmers in Nyando, Kakamega and Vihiga

Based on the variety assessment of the farmers, seed was multiplied of the 10 selected sorghum varieties; the amount was complemented by seed of three sweet sorghum varieties developed by JKUAT through its Biotechnology and Breeding programs, in collaboration with the Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Multiplication was done in two seasons in 2020 and 2021 and quality seed distributed to over 1000 farmers in the Nyando, Kakamega and Vihiga regions (Photos 1-2). The first seed multiplication was done on a two-acre piece of land in Nyando together with 100 farmers. About 1200 kg of seed was produced, some of which was donated to the Nyando community seed bank, the Vihiga Community seedbank and to more than 300 farmers in Kakamega. The second multiplication cycle was carried out in Vihiga, Kakamega and Nyando, to have a sustainable supply of high-quality seed to farmers for planting during the next planting seasons. The seed multiplication activities were always accompanied with training in sorghum production and benefited farmers from the three regions.

On farm seed multiplication in Kakamega. Credit: S.Anami

About two tons of the harvested and stored seed in Kakamega have been disseminated to the Shimanyiro Sorghum farmers Associations with a membership of 50 and Mukongolo Consumers Cooperative with a membership of 300, to plant in the first rainy season of 2022. These farmers will produce the varieties for home consumption, seed bulking, and sale at the local markets. In addition, farmers would like to capture new market opportunities through selling of animal feed and ethanol for fuel and for purposes of COVID-19 control in their local communities. The sweet sorghum hybrids and Likwenjeli stems will be utilized as raw material for the sustainable production of ethanol, composite flour and animal feeds. Farmers in Nyando have been connected to DashCrop LTD – a private sector company focused on resilient and sustainable agri-business and value chain development ( (Photo 3). The company produces composite flour from sorghum and finger millet. In Kakamega, the farmers’ owned company Can Sen Enterprises LTD was recently registered with a focus on sustainable production of ethanol and animal feed from sorghum and to offer extension management services ( under development).

DashCrop LTD displaying products made from sorghum. Credit: T. Recha

Farmer capacity development in sorghum value chains, business development, and financial management

The Alliance of Bioversity International spearheaded a number of capacity development activities (Photo 4). The aim of this capacity development was to develop new market opportunities linked to strong corporate social responsibility, whereby farmers are seen as partners rather than recipients of pre-determined technologies. To this end, several events were organized with partners and other organizations in Kenya.

In July 4-6 2018, Hivos and Kenya Climate Innovation Centre (KCIC) hosted a so-called Disrupt Ideation in Nairobi, Kenya, bringing together ethical seed companies, organizations, and technology (IT) based enterprises; all with a revenue model for goods and service provision and a strong corporate social responsibility philosophy. The main aim of the event was to get more social entrepreneurs involved and interested in delivering products and services of quality to smallholder farmers based on their needs. During the event, nine social entrepreneurs developed next steps in their businesses and pitched their propositions to a jury and audience at the Strathmore Business School in Nairobi. The overall winner, Dash Crop, is currently receiving mentorship support from KCIC. Dash Crop focuses on production of composite flour from sorghum and millet. It is currently working together with the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, and with farmers in Nyando, who are receiving guidance on quality seed production and marketing of their specific varieties of sorghum. The innovative aspect is that the company agreed to test the varieties that the farmers are growing rather than “imposing” its own varieties.

To sharpen farmers’ abilities and understanding of local seed networks, training on Seed Business Management was held 3-4 September 2019 in Nyando. The training supported the development of vibrant and market-oriented seed banks/enterprises through enhancing income generation of the community seed banks. A total of 52 (25 men and 27 women) farmers from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, participated in the training and were trained on sales and marketing strategy, quality assurance, financial management, and key concepts related to seed business control (Photo 4).

Hivos, together with PELUM Uganda and the Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT, conducted Gender Action Learning Systems training at NARO Bulindi, Uganda, from 9-13 September 2019. The training brought together 47 participants (23 men and 24 women), including community seed bank leaders from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. The participants were taken through the Gender Action Learning approach, as a transformative household approach for gender justice. The participants were trained on developing vision journeys to economic stability, Gender/Family balance tree, and empowerment leadership maps. The community seed bank leaders were given an opportunity to share with the wider community what they had learnt. This aimed at improving the livelihoods of individual farmers, families and seed bank groups through providing opportunities to women and youth in decision-making and engagement in income generation activities.

JKUAT and the Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT organized farmer’s training on sorghum value chain development, business development, and financial management in March 2021. Representatives of the Mukongolo Consumers Cooperative and Green Village International participated in the training with the aim to create partnerships for the production and marketing of the selected varieties. During the training, farmers were briefed about the importance of sorghum for food, feed, fodder and fuel. They learned about sorghum value addition and observed demonstrations of the making of ordinary and fortified flour, animal feeds and yeast, and the process of beer brewing (Photos 5-6). Farmers were also trained on the mechanization of value addition of sorghum-by-sorghum thresher, sorghum miller and mixer, packaging machines and aggregation of sorghum and additives.

To successfully manage their funds, they were trained in gross Margin Analysis as a reliable tool to assess the financial performance of an enterprise. They learned how to calculate the productivity of their sorghum farms and compare the performance of different technologies and practices they applied, as an input for better management of their sorghum enterprises. They were also taken through the financial management of sorghum business, including sourcing of funds, control of finances, savings and credit controls, and keeping business records. As a result, a business model was developed based on the emerging new market for ethanol for fuel and animal feeds for livestock (Photos 7-8). The new knowledge and skills gained led to the formation of Can Sen Enterprises LTD, that will focus on the establishment of a micro-distillery for the sustainable production of ethanol and animal feed from the stems of Likwenjeli (a local sorghum variety preferred by farmers) and from sweet sorghum hybrids. A detailed business plan has been developed and funding is actively being sought.

Participatory variety selection (PVS) was conducted in June 2020 in lower Nyando, to evaluate the performance of the selected sorghum varieties and to assess farmers’ level of satisfaction in agronomic and phytomorphological attributes of the varieties for future sorghum improvement. 13 varieties of sorghum were planted in a completely randomized block design with three replications and plot sizes of 2 by 4 meters. Farmers were invited to evaluate the varieties. The results of the analysis revealed that variety GBK 045669 was the most preferred variety by farmers due to its high yield, resistance to pests and diseases, good color and attractive shape. Likwenjeli was also chosen for its high yield and Brix content. Sweet sorghum variety K16 was preferred for its resistance to pest and diseases and its potential for use as fodder; K12 for its larger head and therefore increased yield; KT1 was also among the three top preferred varieties for its large head, early maturity and for its potential use for animal feed.

In addition to participatory varietal selection, on from 30 March to 2 April 2021, the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, together with JKUAT, organized and conducted a two days training and seed fair themed “Training and seed exhibition for climate change adaptation: Increasing production, improving quality and Establishing Markets for Beans, finger millet and sorghum for Smallholder Farmers in Nyando, Kenya”. This activity attracted 100 farmers from Kakamega, Vihiga and Nyando, who displayed seed of different varieties of sorghum, bean, maize, traditional vegetables, and other agricultural products, such as pumpkins and cassava (both stems and roots). The event was attended by the Africa Director of the Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT, Suzanne Ngo-Eyok, who spoke about the current and future research activities, partnerships and support towards national agricultural development, and the resilience of rural communities and seed systems (Photos 9-10). There was a launch and presentation of two seed catalogues on best performing varieties of finger millet and sorghum in Nyando, and a nutritional analysis of selected best performing varieties of bean, finger millet and sorghum in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. The seed catalogues can be found at: The nutritional report at:

Current project impact and sustainability strategies

Involving farmers from Kakamega in the project for the purpose of upscaling of the best performing sorghum varieties obtained from Nyando has resulted in increased varietal diversity in farmers’ hands: farmers now can access over 20 different varieties of sorghum (compared to four in the past). This has given them the ability to choose varieties that perform well in face of low moisture, have resistance to pests and diseases and ressitance to birds etc., thus increasing the food basket at household level.

Climate change (increased temperatures, erratic and unpredictable rainfall, flooding, and new pests and diseases) has continuously strained conventional crops such as maize in western Kenya pushing farmers to switch to more resilient crops, such as sorghum, cassava, and finger millet. Thus, the adoption of sorghum for food has enhanced food and nutritional security for more than 100 farmers and their families. In addition, farmers with medical conditions, such as diabetes, are now on a diet based on sorghum.

There is an enhanced exchange of knowledge in sorghum growing between farmers in Nyando and those from Kakamega and Vihiga though training and exchange visits. This exchange of knowledge and varieties has created and strengthened the farmers’ network across the western Kenya region. This networking promotes the project’s sustainability. Some of these networks include Mukongolo consumer cooperative, Shimanyiro Sorghum Farmers’ Association, Green Village International, and the Vihiga nutritional community seed bank.

Farmers have learned how to produce ethanol and animal feed from sorghum stems. As a result, they have registered a company (Can Sen Enterprises LTD; a website is under development) for the purpose of sorghum value addition and marketing. This represents a new employment and income generation opportunity.

The project was able to establish collaboration between sorghum farmers in Kakamega and the Mukongolo Consumers Cooperative to increase the production and productivity of sorghum as raw material for the cooperative. There has also been an increase in adoption of best practices in sorghum growing in Kakamega and Nyando, in order to raise the required quantity to meet market demand.


This work was undertaken as part of, and funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC) and supported by CGIAR Fund Donors. It is a contribution to the GLDC research program, more specifically, to the work on improving the functionality of seed systems co-led by ICRISAT and the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT.


Tobias RechaGloria OtienoSylvester Anami and Ronnie Vernooy
Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology/S. Anami