Farmers in Busia area of Western Kenya are learning how to make hay from sweet potato vines, having received training from their Ugandan counterparts who have mastered the art of preserving fodder for dry days.
The farmers especially those in pig rearing business, and aware of the nutritional value of sweet potato vines in feeding pigs have invested in planting them. The vines have 16 per cent protein level and with pigs requiring on average 12-18 per cent protein level for proper growth, the vines have become the ideal feed. But upon harvest most of the vines don’t last long and wither leaving farmers with a gap as they wait for the next harvest season. The project that was initially introduced by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in partnership with International Potato Centre in Uganda has found its way to Busia as farmers train each other.
But it is not an easy task to make hay from the vines since they contain a lot of water which needs to be dried out. Farmers have however learnt to be patient in the hay making venture considering the spiraling cost of animal feeds which have hit unprecedented levels in the recent past. A 90 kilogram bag of Pig finisher feed for example costs Sh4900 up from Sh2800 two years ago.
Farmers making the silage start by harvesting then sorting them to separate the good and the bad before proceeding to chop them into smaller pieces. The vines are later dried in the sun to reduce their moisture content.
Farmers have perfected this art by going ahead mixing the vines with sliced potato tubers to boost the protein levels. “We then pack the mixture and place it either in a pit, plastic or nylon air tight bag. We also compact the silage in layers to remove air that might interfere with fermentation. We like this silage because it is highly digestible by the animals,” said Mutemi Wanjala one of the pioneer pig farmers to trial sweet potato vines silage.