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Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench)

Local names in Kenya (Mtama, Bel, Mawele)



Sorghum is the firth most important cereal grown in the world. It is an indigenous crop to Kenya and is a basic staple food crop for many rural communities in the country, especially in more drought-prone areas. It is important for food, animal fodder, bio-fuel and production of alcohol and beverages. The crop is adapted to a wide range of environments, able to perform better than most crops under extreme climatic conditions, from excessive dry spells to excessively moist conditions, and under varied temperatures and soil types


Site selection
Sorghum is adapted to a wide range of environments and is able to perform under extreme climatic conditions 


Altitude range

Sorghum requires altitudes of 0-2500 masl and a suitable AEZ e.g. LM1-LM5

Soil type and conditions

A wide range of soils e.g. clay loam, clay and silt soils but not loamy soil with the soil pH of 4.8-6.0

Sorghum nutrient requirements include: N, P, K, Zn, S, Cl, Mg, Ca, Fe, B, Cu, Mn

Temperature range

The temperatures should be  above 10 oC


Rainfall should be 250-900 mm p.a


Land preparation


Steps during land preparation

  1. Plough a fallow land, if planted as second season crop one plough is sufficient
  2. Practice contour farming technique
  3. Add manure and fertilizers to the soil in the right amounts to provide the required plant nutrients for vigorous crop growth
  4. Maintain adequate soil health, soil nutrients, soil depth and moisture holding capacity
  5. Soil testing and analysis is necessary for tailored soil amendments and nutrient replenishment


Planting materials include seeds or ratoon 




Vegetative stage

Reproductive stage


The choice of variety depends on locality, consumer and market preferences and disease tolerance 


Recommended varieties include;

Gadam, Serena and Seredo

Use certified and local varieties as per the AEZ


Plant at the onset of rain and intercropping should be done with an appropriate cover crop 


Direct planting of seeds is done by sowing directly into furrows as a drill at a spacing of 45 x 60  or 75cm x 20cm for mono-crop and 90 cm x 30 cm for inter-crop with legume or maize

Drill then thin to 12-20 cm between plants in furrows, 3-4 weeks after emergence

In dry condition seeds should be placed at 5 cm depth and 2.5-4.0 cm in moist soil

Seed rate; 7-12 Kg per Ha and the seed rate vary depending on environmental condition. Very low seed rate is applicable in very dry conditions

Traditional planting broadcasting can also be applied


Water management
Water demand is crucial at all stages but very critical at grain filling stage 


Rainfall can supply most of the water requirements for sorghum

Irrigation is done only when necessary to maintain optimal soil moisture


Weed management
Ensure all weed are controlled timely and through rotation with legumes or cotton 


Striga weed


Rotate crops to break weed cycle, and to avoid weed build-up

First weeding is done after 2-3 weeks after emergence

Second weeding 2-3 weeks after the first weeding to reduce competition for nutrients and to control pests and diseases

Rogue diseased, off types and infected plants to reduce host plants for vectors

Ratoon crop stalks are cut and arranged between rows to act as mulch to smoother weeds and retain moisture in the soil


Soil fertility
Apply nutrients as per soil test or analysis results and recommendations 


Recycle crop and plant residues to provide manure when they decompose

Apply sufficient, well-decomposed, organic manure in soil before planting to enhance water holding capacity, texture and to supply nutrients for healthy crop establishment


Crop management
Rotate, thin, mulch and control soil erosion timely 


Thinning is done after emergence for correct plant population avoid unnecessary competition

Mulching is done to smoother weeds

Rogueing of diseased plants should be done at the correct time

Intercrop should be done with an appropriate cover crop

Control soil erosion  or run off

Practice crop rotation


Pest management
Check for pests; Apply IPM and cover grain heads with sugar bags 


Pests include;

Birds especially quelea, Sorghum shoot fly, Stem borers, Sorghum midge, Head bugs, Termites, Chafer grubs, Weevils, Striga weed; Fall armyworm


Sorghum shoot fly

Stem borers

Sorghum midge


Head bugs



Fall armyworm 


Control of pests strategies

Control using early uniform planting

Field sanitation and crop rotation  to break pest cycle and to avoid pest build-up

Spray with insecticides

Plant early maturing and tolerant varieties

IPM and cover grain heads with sugar bags

Scare crow


Disease management
Check for disease; Ensure crop rotation to break disease cycle and to avoid disease build-up 


Major diseases include;

Leaf blight, Anthracnose, Sooty stripes, Rusts, Smut, Charcoal rot and Grain mold

Leaf blight





Diseases control strategies

Use tolerant or resistant varieties

Crop rotation to break disease cycle, and to avoid disease build-up

Clean seeds or certified seeds

Field sanitation and hygiene

Early planting


Sorghum matures 3 to 4 months after planting 


Sorghum is harvested when physiologically mature, i.e. when most leaves have dried, the panicles are no longer green, the stalks turn yellow or brown


Sorghum is harvested after 3 to 4 months after planting when weather is dry 


Harvesting is done manually by cutting the head using a sharp knife

The harvested sorghum is then carefully transported to the homestead avoiding contamination

Sorghum has the potential of producing 2.7 tons per ha


Store sorghum with a moisture content of 13% or less 


Check the moisture content of the dry grain using a moisture meter or salt method. Salt will stick on grain which is not adequately dried when the grain is put in a container of salt and shaken

Store the dry grain in airtight bags or metallic silos


Post-harvest handling
Dry, thresh and grind to floor 


Dry the harvested sorghum panicles on mats air tarpaulins

Drying prevents contamination of the grain with mycotoxins

Thresh the dry sorghum panicles

Dry the threshed grain to a moisture content of 13% or less

Winnow to remove chuff