Grass farming: Why small scale farmers are shifting away from maize, wheat to hay farming in Narok

A farmer checking Boma Rhodes in the farm. Photo|C

Kenya is facing serious changes in climatic conditions making rain-fed agriculture unpredictable and unreliable.

Small scale farmers are resorting to alternative means of survival with some completely abandoning farming to seek self-employment or join the jua kali industry.

In most parts of the country, the rain seasons keep on changing and the rain fall level dropping gradually leading to drought in areas which were initially regarded as food baskets in the region.

Livestock farmers are also feeling the heat. When the weather is unfavorable, the reduced farm output is used for domestic consumption while little is done to cater for the animals.

The persistent shortage of feeding materials for livestock especially during the dry season opens a sound opportunity for making money selling grass hay.

The high productivity and quality per unit area of BOMA Rhodes for example make it the grass of choice for both the large and small-scale farmers.

The Rhodes grass is the most important pasture grass in Kenya due to its ease in establishment and management.

Grass production and hay making for sales can easily be practiced by small-scale farmers because the methods of pasture establishment and propagation demand less capital.

Hay ready for sale. Photo|Courtesy

First you need to prepare the land by ploughing and harrowing twice for virgin lands. Using a tractor, this is a days’ work and can be done at very cheap prices. On a previously cropped land you will need to plough and harrow just once before the beginning of the long rains.

Sowing should be done very early so that weeds do not overtake the germinating seeds. Others prefer to sow during the short rains to take care of weeds.

Drilling is preferred because it ensures that the seeds are buried and distributed uniformly and others are not left on the surface to dry as in broadcasting. The seed is best sown on the surface not deeper than 2 centimeters followed by rolling. Seeds germinate in 1-7 days and seedlings develop rapidly. Fertilizer is also applied to make the grass healthy.

With good rainfall, grass can be harvested after 4 months, meaning in a year there are two seasons.

According a farmer in Narok, who shifted from maize farming, grass farming yield more than maize farming. Once the grass has been planted, it can stay on the farm for four years, before introducing either another crop or another type of grass.

Farmers do not have to buy new seeds after every harvest.

Some farmers sell the grass while on the field while most of them prefer to bail, dry and store to sell when the supply is low.

A one-acre land can yield to more than 200 bales where a bale is currently Ksh 70 in the market. This is the worst price after the market has recorded high number of farmers venturing into the grass farming. Initially, the price of a bale was ranging between Kes 200- 250.

The only challenge farmers face is rusting of the grass while no diseases and pests. With a good market linkage, the farming of grass is very promising for both small- and large-scale farmers.





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