Sekedo, a drought resistant sorghum for Karamoja

Climate changeEnvironment and climate changeWater management

Notes to broadcasters

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Increased water shortages, reduced crop yields, more floods and increases in human and animal disease are some of the serious problems being caused by climate change. Farmers can no longer rely on the rainy seasons as before. The rise in temperatures has left many boreholes dry and streams having no water. These impacts of climate change are due to the large amount of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane that are being pumped in the air by human activities and industries.

It is said that in the near future, the ice on mountains like Kilimanjaro and Rwenzori will disappear, and that many parts of the world will experience floods, droughts and forest fires, as a result of climate change. That means many people will have little food to eat and there will be no excess produce to sell in order to afford basic needs and pay school fees.

Climate change is also a problem in a place such as Karamoja, which already experiences a difficult climate. Located in the northeastern part of Uganda, Karamoja is a semi-arid savannah, with bush and mountainous areas. As a semi-arid area, it may get short rains during April and a longer rainy season from June to early September. This pattern is not reliable and in many years the rains are sparse, or do not fall at all. Drought and hunger are recurrent features of life in Karamoja. Sorghum and millet provide most of their nutrition. The Dodoth, Jie, and Karimojong people have adapted to this often-harsh environment by concentrating much of their energy on their herds of livestock.

Between 1991 and 2000, Uganda experienced seven droughts in a period of ten years. The country is currently witnessing increased variability in rainfall patterns.

In this script we focus on how a farmer in Karamoja is benefiting from growing a new and improved quick-maturing type of sorghum called Sekedo, an improvement from Seredo, a brown-seeded variety adopted for all areas in Uganda. Use of Sekedo may help farmers adapt to the shorter rainy season.


Signature tune to introduce the programme

Hello and welcome to this week’s edition. It is feared that Africa will in the near future experience reduction in yields of staple crops like maize, millet and sorghum, which are consumed by many people. This is because of the increase in temperatures and the change in the rainy seasons. When there is not enough water, farmers cannot irrigate their crops and also have enough to give their animals. This will lead to increased levels of poverty and malnutrition. In Uganda, for example, farmers thought the rains in January this year would continue and therefore started planting. But the rains disappeared, leaving the crops dry.

These days the sun is too hot in the early hours of the morning. People cannot work as long on the farms as they used to some years back. This means there is less work being done on the farms to produce food.

Growing crops that are drought resistant is one form of adapting to the impacts of climate change. Governments, through their ministries of agriculture, are continually researching to develop crops that can mature faster in order to provide food for the farmers affected by droughts. One such crop is an improved variety of sorghum called Sekedo, which is being promoted by the Ugandan government in areas like the Karamoja and Teso regions. Sekedo sorghum is drought-resistant and matures within three months or 100 days and can be grown twice a year. It is resistant to stem borers, shoot flies and midges. It can yield from four to five tons per hectare. Sekedo seeds are also used to feed broiler chicks for quick maturity. Sorghum is the third most important staple cereal food crop in Uganda after maize and millet.

Last year Nile Breweries, a leading beer company, gave 3.7 billion Ugandan shillings to eight thousand farmers in sixteen districts in Uganda to support them to grow Sekedo for beer production (Editor’s note: about $2.3 million US dollars). According to Nile Breweries corporate affairs manager Onapito Ekomoloit, the money will provide training for farmers to approach farming as a business. The name of the program is “Wealth projects for sorghum farmers”. The beer is also exported to Zambia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Compared to other crops, the price of Sekedo seeds is the lowest. A farmer may spend only half a dollar for one kilogram and needs ten kilograms of seeds for one hectare. The seeds are now being produced by Victoria Seeds Company and are available in farm supply shops. This improved early-maturing variety willboth serve as a food security crop and earn extra income for farmers. After a short break, we will hear from a Karamojan farmer who is growing Sekedo. Stay tuned.

Musical break

Charles Lon’goli is a farmer in Nakapiripirit in Karamoja region. He grows a new type of sorghum called Sekedo that has been introduced to provide enough food for the people of Karamoja and other dry areas in northeastern Uganda.

Sekedo is a brown-seeded variety of sorghum, which has been developed to improve household food supply and income in dry areas of Uganda.

Charles, for how long have you been growing Sekedo sorghum?

Not so long. It is now two years, because the normal type of sorghum we had been planting was not doing well.

What do you mean it was not doing well?

The harvest was small. It is ready for harvest only after four months, but Sekedo takes less than three months. Sekedo is drought-resistant, meaning that it can grow well even when the rain is not enough.

How do you plant Sekedo?

I plant it in lines. Each line is two metres from the next, and you don’t pour too many seeds together. Before this, we used to just scatter the seeds on the soil and harvesting was a problem. But if you plant Sekedo in lines, it becomes easy to cultivate and also you harvest enough.

Do you plant sorghum alone or do you also plant other crops?

Yes, I plant some local vegetables in between the lines where I plant Sekedo. This ensures that I get enough greens for my family to eat.

How has Sekedo helped you and your family?

Now we have enough food in the house and we can sell some crops to buy things like sugar, bread, cooking oil and salt. You know we have been depending on cows. But with these changing weather conditions, most of the cows have died of disease or hunger.

Do you know about climate change?

I know climate change.

What does it mean to you?

I think it means lack of rain and too much sunshine.

Musa Ecweru (pronounced Echuweru) is the Minister of State for Relief and Disaster Preparedness. He explains why the government has focused on Karamoja.

Karamoja has some very fertile corners, but it receives very short rains. Farmers also have problems timing the planting of cereals like sorghum. This type of sorghum called Sekedo was developed in Serere and it was found that it could grow well in Karamoja. The government obtained tractors through a directive of the President, and a research institute in Karamoja called Nabuin was asked to identify fertile corners where the sorghum could be planted.

Why have you decided to do this project at this time?

Karamoja has been affected by war for a long time. As a government, we could not help much because of the insecurity. Now that the war has ended, we feel it is time to come in and help these people. This is the only way we can guarantee food security in Karamoja, so that if there is any relief to be given, it should be just to supplement the efforts of the local community.

Thank you for joining us for today’s program. We hope that you have learned about a crop which may be of assistance to you in adapting to the changing climate, and can put your new knowledge to good use. Good-bye for now.


Contributed by: Pius Sawa Murefu, Radio Sapientia, Soroti, Uganda.

Reviewed by: John Ajigo, Programme officer (pilot project), Nigerian Environmental Study/Action Team (NEST), Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria.

Special thanks to the Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW) Social Justice Fund for supporting this script package.

Information sources

  • Serere Agricultural and Animal Production Research Institute (SAARI)
    P.O BOX Soroti, Uganda
    Tel: 256-45-61192
  • National Agricultural Research Organisation, undated. Technologies Available at SAARI (Serere Agricultural and Animal Production Research Institute).
  • Musa Ecweru, State Minister for Relief and Disaster Preparedness,
  • C. Kyarisiima, M. Okot, and B. Svihus, 2005. Use of wood ash extract and germination to improve the feeding value of Ugandan Sekedo sorghum for broiler chicks. Animal Feed Science and Technology, Volume 120, Issue 1-2, Pages 67–77.
  • Charles Lon’goli, farmer.