An Agricultural Officer inspecting mature Napier grass. Napier grass is a high yielding nutritious fodder crop with good palatability.
Pennisetum purpureum, also known as Napier grass, is a species of perennial tropical grass native to the African grasslands. A majority of small scale farmers use the crop to feed their animals in the dairy production areas of Kenya. Napier grass is a high yielding fodder crop with good palatability and is highly nutritious especially when young with dark green leaves and less than one meter tall.
According to a publication by the Kenya Agriculture Research and Livestock Organization (KALRO), planting of Napier grass should adhere to the following procedure for maximum production and high yields.
First, a farmer should identify the type of variety to plant in his or her farm. The variety to be planted depends on the ecological requirements. Generally the crop does well in high rainfall areas, with over 1500 mm per year, and not over than 2,000 m above sea level. The different varieties of the grass include Bana, Clone 13, French Cameroon and Pakistan Hybrid.
Farmers can source the Napier for planting from research institutions like KALRO, other farmers or from the ministry of Agriculture.
Two methods of planting can be used when planting Napier grass using the tumbukiza method; the round pit type and the rectangular pit type. For round pits; dig pits 2 feet in diameter by 2 feet deep. The rows of pits should be 2 feet apart. For rectangular pits; dig pits 2 feet deep by 2 - 3 feet wide. The length of the pit can vary depending on available land. The pits should be 3 feet apart. The top-soil should be separated from sub-soil.
When planting, mix 1 debe of top-soil with 1 to 2 debes of farmyard manure and put into the pits. For the rectangular pit, put the top-soil/manure mixture for every 3 feet length. Leave about 6 inches unfilled space at the top of each pit. Plant 5 - 10 cane cuttings or single root splits in round pits. In the rectangular pits, plant 5 - 10 cuttings or single root splits for every 3 feet length.
Management of weeds should be done by hand weeding, if there are any weeds. Alternatively, use spaces between the pits to grow other crops, especially sweet potatoes. Apply farmyard manure or slurry after every 4 to 6 harvests.
While harvesting, do not let the animals graze directly on the Napier grass. You should cut the grass when it is two to three feet tall. Feed 70 kg or 7 headloads of fresh unchopped Napier grass to a dairy cow per day. One acre of Tumbukiza Napier grass can give enough feed for 2 to 3 dairy cows for one year.
The tumbukiza method of planting is better because there is better growth of the grass and the feed is available even during the dry season. A farmer is assured of more milk, improved profits and extra income from increased milk sales.