|Traditional Food Plants of Kenya (National Museum of Kenya, 1999, 288 p.)|
Borana: misinga Chonyi: muhama Embu: muvia English: sorghum. Guinea corn Giriama: muhama Kamba: muvya Kambe: mhama Keiyo: moosong', moosongik Kikuyu: muhia Kisii: amaemba Luhya (Isukha): mavele Luhya (Kisa): amabere Luhya (Marachi): mabere, mavere Luhya (Maragoli): mabere, mavere Luhya (Bukusu): liemba, kamaemba (plural) Luhya (Tachoni): amabele, kamaemba Luhya (Samia): amabele Luo: bel Marakwet: mosong (plural), mosiyon (singular) Meru: muya Nandi: mosongik Pokot: musyoon, musuu (plural) Sanya: misinga, msinga Somali: gidami Swahili: mtama Teso: imomwa Tharaka: munya Turkana: ng'imomwa
Description: A strong annual or perennial grass cultivated for its grain. Culms (stems) usually 1-2 m high, often with prop roots at the lowest nodes. LEAVES: Leaf-blade broader than in pearl millet. FLOWERS: Inflorescence a large terminal branched panicle which may be compact or loosely held. FRUITS: Grain of various colours ranging from white to red and dark brown. Many varieties are known, some only found and maintained locally by individual communities and deeply integrated into their culture. The Ng'ikebootok of southern Turkana, for example, keep up to 15 types, probably representing races, all with distinct vernacular names.
Ecology: Cultivated in most areas of Kenya, particularly in Nyanza and Western Provinces, usually between 0 and 2,400 m.
Uses: FOOD: A traditional grain crop of most communities in Kenya. The grain is ground into flour and used for making porridge and ugali. Used a great deal by the Luo, Turkana, Tharaka, Taveta, Tugen, Marakwet, Elgeyo, Teso, Luhya, Kisii, Kamba, Kikuyu, Embu and Mijikenda (Giriama, Digo, Duruma, Rabai, Ribe, Kambe, Jibana, Chonyi, Kauma) groups. Among the Luo, Teso and Luhya, the grain may be mixed with dried cassava and ground into flour. Flour may often be mixed with maize or finger-millet flour. The brown husks of sorghum, chung'bel, are used for making tea (Luo). The flour is used for making traditional beer (Teso, Luo). Fresh grain of some sweet cultivars is eaten. Bitter cultivars are preferred where bird attack is a problem. The stems of some cultivars are sweet and chewed like sugarcane. These are often sold in markets in southern Africa, especially in south-western Zimbabwe.
CULTURAL/BELIEFS: The Ng'ikebootok of southern Turkana believe sorghum came to their land by way of elephant dung.
COMMERCIAL: The grain and flour are sold all over the country.
Management: Propagated through seed. Takes 3-4 months to reach maturity. Quicker maturing varieties now available. In some cultivars, the crop may be left to give a second or even a third harvest by cutting off mature stems. The second crop may be as good as the first (Turkana) or better, but the third is always much less. Diseases are a limiting factor in later harvests.
Season: Mature crop in February-March in Machakos, Kitui, Embu, Mbeere, Tharaka, Meru, in June-July in Kitui, Mwingi, Tharaka (second harvest from same crop) and in July-September in Turkana (with up to three harvests).
Remarks: Sorghum is a crop that has been cultivated since ancient times and hence a great number of cultivars exist. Local people not only distinguish the various forms using morphological characters (like plant height, stem colour and thickness, size and shape of the ear, colour and shape of grain) but also others such as taste and hardness of the grain. Like many other traditional grain foods, sorghum has declined in importance compared to maize among many communities. It is, however, still a staple food among the Luo, Teso and agricultural Turkana.
Sorghum is believed to have originated in north-eastern Africa. Its diversity among the communities in southern Sudan and bordering communities in Kenya and Ethiopia is of great interest. Many varieties become extinct each year due to disuse or introduction of more competitive varieties. Sorghum's close wild relative, S. arundinaceum (Kamba: mukombi, imila, Turkana: etiriwae) is commonly seen in association with it. It is common in the Kibwezi area and in Laikipia. De Wet and Harlan (1971) combined all spontaneously occurring taxa into S. bicolor ssp. arundinaceum (Desv.) de Wet and Harlan and all cultivated taxa into S. bicolor ssp. bicolor. Harlan (1971) considered that sorghum was domesticated in the savannah somewhere between Chad and the Sudan where ssp. arundinaceum is abundant and still harvested as a cereal in times of scarcity.