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Kapchorwa sprouts as new barley growing field

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The beer line at the Kenya Breweries in Nairobi. Inset: Barley crop in Njoro. Beer companies are leading the scramble for East Africa’s barley, especially at this time when erratic rainfalls have affected barley production in other countries. Pictures: Anthony Kamau 

By MARK KAPCHANGA

Posted  Monday, August 24   2009 at  00:00

Kapchorwa, a tiny district on the Kenya-Uganda border is becoming famous — this time for a good reasons. The once sleepy area, infamous for cattle rustling and female genital mutilation is set to become one of the major producers of barley in the region.

Among the leading investors eyeing the district’s high quality barley are companies from Kenya, Tanzania, Denmark and South Africa.

Beer brewers are leading the scramble, especially at a time when erratic rainfalls has affected barley production in other countries.

Currently, Jinja-based Nile Breweries is planning to invest in barley farming in the area. According to corporate affairs director Onapito Ekomoloit, the decision to invest in local sourcing will help boost production, and ultimately make beer cheap in the country.

“We expect a significant reduction in pricing of our products since we will no longer be importing barley from other countries,” he said.

For some years now , Nile Breweries has been importing barley for beer production from South Africa and Tanzania where its sister companies, SabMiller and Tanzania Breweries, are based, respectively.

“Our investment in local barley farming by provision of inputs will eventually lead to low expenditure in the long run,” Mr Ekomoloit said. So far the company has distributed free seeds and farm maintenance capital to farmers.

The move by leading brewers to invest in barley farming follows the government of Uganda’s decision to lower excise duties on locally produced goods.

Also in the scramble for Kapchorwa’s barley is Uganda Breweries, whose sister company, East African Maltings Ltd, invested more than Ksh1.2 billion ($15.3 million) in 2006 in promoting the growing of barley by farmers.

“With the support of the East African Breweries Ltd Foundation, Uganda Breweries has provided interest-free loans, fertiliser, barley seeds and pesticides to the Kapchorwa commercial farmers’ association to enable them to plant equatorial barley. This barley is used to brew Senator Lager, a very affordable and popular brand in Uganda,” says an investor report by Diageo Africa.

It is estimated that EABL spends more than Ksh10 million ($128, 000) a year on research and equipping barley farmers with agricultural skills to enhance the quality of production.

Indeed, EABL is already reaping the fruits of the barley farming project. Today, the brewer uses local barley to produce its new beer, Senator Lager, whose market reception in the region has grown significantly.

According to statistics, Kapchorwa district currently produces yields twice as those produced by Denmark. It is projected that the country could soon join the world’s chief exporters of the product — the European Union, Australia and Canada.

In what seems to be a move to dominate barley farming in East Africa, Uganda Breweries Ltd recently began an ambitious plan with maize-growing farmers around Mt Elgon area to help them cultivate barley. The agriculturally rich strip of Mt Elgon is projected to double the country’s crop production.

According to a barley farmer in Cheminy, Musa Kasis, production of barley in the region has been on the rise even as neighbouring countries record a drop in production due to erratic rains.

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