Sorghum Threshers Reducing Post-Harvest Losses in Western Kenya
By Joyce Ojanji
Sorghum is Africa’s second most important cereal, with the continent producing about 20 million tonnes per annum.
However, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that its loss stands at 2.67% between harvesting time to retailers, and can reach up to 20% loss of all cereals produced.
Grain spillage, incomplete separation of the grain from chaff and grain breakage due to excessive striking are some of the major reasons for losses during the threshing process, a study shows.
It is for this reason that sorghum threshers are gaining traction among farmers in Busia County.
“It takes days to thresh piles of sorghum and winnow them to separate the chaff from the grain. Losses are high due to scattering of the beans, especially during transportation from the farm before threshing,” Judith Ochieng, a sorghum farmer from Busia notes.
She notes that the thresher has increased her profit margin, and labor productivity and decreased the cost of production. It has also enhanced the quality of produce as the grains from manual threshing are often contaminated with debris ranging from stones to chicken droppings.
“Before the introduction of the sorghum thresher, I could lose approximately two in ten bags of sorghum, from the period of harvesting to the retail market. As at now, I can only lose a quarter bag of sorghum because it takes the shortest time possible between harvesting and retail market,’’ she narrates.
According to Ochieng, the thresher is powered by a petrol engine, making it 75 times faster than manual threshing. The machine can thresh up to eight different crops: beans, maize, millet, sorghum, pigeon pea, green grams, sunflower and wheat.
“To use it, we prepare the sorghum heads, then it is fed through a hopper uniformly. We use protective gear and set the machine across the wind direction. Whipping will then start and only clear grains will be collected through a sieve at the far end,” she narrates.
“The output of the thresher will vary according to the type of crop, crop conditions such as yield, maturity, moisture content, and machine factors such as feeding rate, sieve matching, engine speed, and winnower setting. The only maintenance required is the oiling of the moving parts to reduce rusting and friction.’’
She says women and youths bear the burden of manual labor on the farms. Thus the machine has come really handy as it reduces manual labor costs from Sh80 per kilogram to just Sh5. The time taken per kilogram when processing grain manually is 1.875kg/hr but 70kg/hr can be produced when operations are mechanized. The machine performs threshing, sieving and winnowing in one operation, she adds.
Additionally, Ochieng says that the thresher is portable and can be attached to a motorcycle, making it easy to move from farm to farm, to offer threshing services to farmers during the harvest season. It also creates job opportunities for the youth.
“We see this thresher creating job opportunities and attracting our youth into agriculture as threshing services providers. And because the thresher is portable, the service provider can reach more farmers earning them revenues throughout the cropping seasons of the different crops,”she adds.
According to Geoffrey Nyamoti from Bountifield International, the machine has been enhanced with a winnower to improve the grain cleaning process and the grain quality thereof. In an hour, the machine threshes eight bags of beans, consuming one litre of petrol with a maximum of three people to operate. Normally, it would take three people at least ten days to beat the beans with sticks and sort eight bags of sorghum, he says.
“Unlike in the past when farmers would struggle for almost two weeks, threshing cereals and they end up spoiling before the final threshing. Cereals like sorghum would spill all over the ground reducing both in quality and quantity. With the introduction of the new cereal thresher, farmers are now relieved,” Nyamoti says.
“Use of cereal threshers have cushioned farmers against post-harvest losses during threshing. This machine guarantees 90 percent grain removal from sorghum heads and ensures that farmers produce grains free from soil or stones or any other unwanted materials.”
The organization works hand in hand with farmer groups to help them purchase the sorghum threshers. One machine goes for roughly shs. 134,000. So far they have distributed three machines. The farmers have a payment arrangement with the organization whereby they pay in installments according to how much they have made from the threshing services in a month.
Henry Matendechere, from Bukiri village, Busia county is a sorghum farmer, who houses the sorghum thresher machine at his home and operates it. He says for a sack of already threshed sorghum, he charges ksh. 300.
“When sorghum is harvested from the farm, the drying and manual threshing is more tedious and farmers tend to lose sorghum grains at this period. Loses are high due to scattering of the grains during the transportation from the house to the open ground daily over a period of two weeks, for a farmer to be able to thresh two bags of sorghum,’’ he narrates.
With the introduction of the machine, Matendechero says, once the sorghum is dried within three days from the farm, he threshes one bag per hour. The thresher only requires oiling of the moving parts to reduce rusting and friction for smooth operation.
However, the high cost of fuel makes using the machine a challenge because it can’t operate without fuel. Also, transporting the machine when they are hired is also a bit challenging because one needs to get a good motorbike rider who is reliable, he adds.