Nyanza farmers turn to richer brachiaria grass
Farmers in Nyanza are deriving fortunes from growing improved fodder varies, a move calculated at doubling milk productivity.
Agribiz has established that several farmers have ventured into production of brachiaria grass. Dennis Ogolla, a farmer at Kakello village in Kabondo Kasipul, Homa Bay county is among those who have discovered the viability of the wonder grass.
The 27-year-old Ogolla first learnt about brachiaria grass through Kasbondo Dairy Cooperative, where he got tips about its production and benefits. He liked the idea and began actual production with Sh27,000 as seed capital. The money went into buying the forage seeds, planting, weeding and bailing.
By the time we visited his 1.3-acre farm recently, Ogolla had harvested the grass thrice, having ventured into agribusiness in 2018. The grass takes on average four months to mature.
His first harvest produced 134 bales and the second 235 bales, which he sold at Sh250 each in August 2019. The third harvest gave him 250 bales.
The farmer, who uses the proceeds to supplement his source of income sells mainly to local dairy farmers and has noted rising demand. From the first grass harvest, he earned Sh33,000 while the second fetched him Sh58,750.
Ogolla also gets additional income from selling splits (propagated brachiaria seedlings) to other farmers locally. A sack of the splits goes for Sh700 at his farm-gate. “During drought, tens of farmers line up here to buy fodder and demand is overwhelming,” he says.
Growing the grass is not labour intensive. It is also disease and pests free and highly nutritious, with a high protein content. “Growing brachiaria is a profitable venture, especially in large scale production. My plan is to upscale the production to about 10 acres,” he says.
Samuel Ouma from Muhoroni in Kisumu county is also reaping from the improved forage. He heard about brachiaria through Osiepe Practical Action group, Muhoroni whose members grow the grass. He tried the fodder two years ago, planting a quarter of an acre. “I earned Sh40,000 from my second harvest by selling a bale at Sh250,” he says.
Ouma, 40, plans to upscale production to supply the entire area with the grass and its seedlings. “There is high demand for the grass, especially as the dry season sets in. Local farmers have embraced brachiaria and are now growing it in their farms,” says Ouma, also a community facilitator at Osiepe on dairy farming matters.
Beryl Achieng, an agricultural extension officer at Kasbondo Dairy says they support the farmers through training, which has seen many start growing the wonder grass. “Brachiaria grass has become favourite feed for most dairy farmers here. We mobilise farmers and train them the benefit of growing the improved grass variety,” says Achieng.
About 300 farmers have now planted the grass and are eyeing good returns. “There is good feedback; more farmers want to be part of the improved fodder production though they were initially reluctant to embrace the idea,” she says.
Brachialia was introduced in the region three years ago under the Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVCD) programme with the help of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) as lead project implementer.
Julius Githinji, field coordinator at ILRI, says they introduced the fodder variety with a view to mitigating inadequacies of feeds among the farmers in parts of Western Kenya to boost milk output.
The agency has worked with farmers’ cooperatives to develop specific plans to address feeds shortages and help cooperatives in planning for available feeds. “AVCD is promoting technologies geared towards improving dairy productivity, specifically around improved fodder,” Githinji says.
AVCD has linked farmers with sources of the forage seeds such that once the project exits the propagation of seeds will continue. “We are looking into helping the farmers commercialise fodder production so that they can bulk it to solve the problem of feeds insufficiency, especially during dry seasons,” he says.
Ben Lukuyu, a feed expert at ILRI, says the organisation is promoting piata, basilisk and xares varieties of the grass in Western Kenya region with regards to the production characteristics such as rainfall patterns and soil types.
The tropical grass has higher biomas per unit compared to other fodder varieties and rich protein content in the range of nine to 20 per cent. It is also drought-tolerant, offers good quality forage and recovers fast after cutting.
Researchers say brachiaria is useful in alleviation of greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution. The high amounts of biomass produced by the grass seize carbon and enhance nitrogen use efficiency through biological nitrification inhibition (BNI).
ILRI has introduced propagating brachiaria vegetatively through splits to address the problem of forage seeds among dairy farmers.
“We are promoting a commercialised production of the wonder grass so that the farmers can make hay and later sell it in the wake of unpredictable weather,” says Lukuyu.