For some 10,000 farmers, many in the Rift Valley, recent months have brought the discovery that the solution to Kenya’s perennial milk shortages, and to low milk output generally, lies not with cattle, but with growing smart grass, in a technique being promoted by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI).
Dubbed the Tumbukiza Method (TM), the technique is seeing farmers growing high-output Napier grass on tiny pieces of land. In Rift Valley where many small scale farmers have adopted now adopted the method, it is a solution that has seen per hectare Napier yields rise by 20 per cent and milk yields by over 50 per cent.
According to David Cheruiyot a TM specialist with KARI Kitale Office, the method is suited for farmers in regions with limited rainfall and with small land plots.
Tumbukiza Method guarantees the optimum utilisation of the available land and sustains more dairy cows than where Napier Grass is grown conventionally. One acre of land where TM is adopted can sustain 2 to 3 dairy cows for a year, against the one cow and a calf sustained where Napier grass is planted in the normal way. The method also enhances soil fertility and moisture levels in the soil, as water is conserved and the technique sees compost manure added.
The technique sees the Napier Grass planted in holes. From one acre piece of land, a farmer can gets 1,121 suitable holes. But just two to three holes are enough to feed one dairy cow the daily equivalent to 70kgs of Napier.
The technique is helped, too, by growing the optimum type of grass. For this, farmers in regions like West Pokot, Kitale, Uasin Gishu are opting to use the Bana Napier variety.
This variety has superior characteristics over other grasses like Clone 13, French Cameroon and Pakistan Hybrid. After it’s cu, following 90 days to reach maturity, farmers get 20 tonnes per acre when wet, or 10 tonnes of dry matter. Other Napier varieties at optimum guarantee 16 tonnes wet and 8 tonnes dry.
In addition, other varieties, like French Cameroon, put on lots of fibres when harvest is delayed and “cows don’t eat much of it affecting the milk production”, said Cheruiyot. However Bana Napier is leafier and softer in stem and the feed intake in cows is higher as cows consume even the stems cutting the waste.
The TM itself is done in rectangular and circular pits. Round pits are dug 2 feet deep and 2 feet in diameter. The rows of pits are dug 2 feet apart. The rectangular pits are also dug 2 feet deep, 2 to 3 feet wide, and 3 feet apart.
One to two containers of around 20kg of manure are added into the pits. Towards the top, 6 inches of unfilled space are left at the top of each pit. Then in each pit 5 to 10 cane cuttings are planted and the upper unfilled space topped with top soil.
Once the cuttings germinate Cheruiyot advises farmers to weed the pits. They can also plant cover crops like sweet potatoes between the pits. When the Napier is 2 to 3 feet high, after 4 to 6 weeks, 20kg of manure, or compost, or farm yard slurry are applied.
Around 10,000 semi arid small holder livestock farmers have so far adopted the Tumbukiza Method to grow Napier. Due to the water conserved through other cover crops, mulch and compost manure, Napier continues growing in dry season.
For the farmers milk production is not interrupted in dry spells and feed is always available. In Rift Valley region small holder farmers who adopted TM and got 10 litres initially, now are daily getting from 15 to 18 litres of milk and now also have more space on often tiny plots for growing other crops.