When the name Kitale is mentioned in Kenya, maize farming quickly comes to most peoples’ minds, thanks to the area’s good track record in corn production in the country. However, several farmers in the region, among them Gibert Melli, are quickly reversing this trend through exclusive Napier grass cultivation, which is earning them more profits than maize.
Melli, who has been growing maize on his six-acre farm near Moi’s Bridge for decades, is earning at least KSh2m per year from Napier grass as opposed to the maize’s KSh900,000 over the same period. In a good season, Melli said, he used to harvest 50-90Kg bags of maize per acre, fetching him KSh3,000 per bag on average.
HOW TO CULTIVATE NAPIER GRASS
In 2012, after a terrible maize harvest, Melli decided to embark on Napier grass farming, following extensive market research, guided by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, KARI (now Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation, KALRO). After sampling several Napier grass varieties, he settled on the clone 13 type, which “is not only high yielding but also resistant to snow mold.” Snow mold is a fungal disease that destroys the crop’s leaves and stems.
Melli harvests at least 10 tonnes of Napier grass per acre, every two months, which he sells to dairy farmers in the region at between KSh5,000-KSh6,000 per tonne. This mean, he earns at least KSh50,000 every two months on average, translating to KSh300,000 per year. From his six acres, the 46-year-old farmer earns a tantalizing Sh1.8m per annum. This is twice the earnings from maize, whose production was more tedious, costly and highly unpredictable.
Another farmer, Jonathan Kibet, who has embraced cultivation of the ‘elephant grass’ as Napier is commonly referred in the area, is a happy man too. Although it was a hard decision to quit maize farming in 2013, he said, returns from the investment are worth the gamble. His biggest fear in the new venture was the initial high cost of about KSh20,000 per acre.
Kibet has approximately six acres of Napier grass in Amagoro Village in Moi’s Bridge. Like Melli, Kibet earns close to KSh2m per year.
LEARN HOW TO GROW NAPIER GRASS PROFITABLY
According to the National Farmers Information Service (NAFIS), Napier grass makes up to 40 per cent of total diary fodder in Kenya with at least 70 per cent of smallholder farmers in the country growing it.
The fodder crop, which is mainly grown from cuttings, has a potential of growing in many types of soil. It, however, thrives in deep well drained soils and regions that receive at least 1000mm of rains per year. It also requires high altitude of at least 2100m and moderate temperatures of between 25-40 degrees.
The success story of these two Napier grass farmers is perhaps a wake up call for smallholder farmers in the continent to try their hands in high value crops if they indeed harbor hopes of unmasking themselves from poverty cobwebs that quickly swallowing more households especially in the developing world.