Farmers in dry areas can increase Napier grass yields by 20 per cent and milk yields by 50 per cent using the tumbukiza (pit planting) method to grow the fodder. The procedure is ideal for marginal areas because it allows for moisture retention than other conventional methods such as row planting.
In the Rift Valley region for instance where many small scale farmers have adopted the method, Napier grass yields have increased by 20 per cent and milk yields have by half according to the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Institute.With the method Napier grass yields can increase from 16 tonnes per acre to 20 tonnes at optimum levels.
Napier grass constitutes between 40 to 60 per cent of the forage used by more than 600,000 smallholder farmers for animals in the dairy production areas of Kenya according to the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).
It is a species of perennial tropical grass native to the African grasslands which is edible and nutritious especially when young with dark green leaves and less than one meter tall.
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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 the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization or ILRI, 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 two feet in diameter by two feet deep. The rows of pits should be two feet apart.
For rectangular pits; dig pits two feet deep by two to three feet wide. The length of the pit can vary depending on available land. The pits should be three feet apart. The top-soil should be separated from sub-soil.
When planting, mix one debe of top-soil with one to two debes of farmyard manure and place them into the pits.
For the rectangular pit, place the top-soil/manure mixture for every three feet length. Leave about six inches unfilled space at the top of each pit.
Plant five to ten cane cuttings or single root splits in round pits. In the rectangular pits, plant five to ten cuttings or single root splits for every three feet length.
Management of weeds should be done manually by hand weeding. Alternatively, use spaces between the pits to grow other crops, especially sweet potatoes. Apply farmyard manure after every four to six 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 head-loads of fresh un-chopped Napier grass to a dairy cow per day.
One acre of Tumbukiza Napier grass can give enough feed for two to three dairy cows for one year.
The tumbukiza method of planting allows for the growth of the grass all year round and the feed is available even during the dry season. A farmer is thus assured of more milk, improved profits and extra income from increased milk sales.