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Unreliable rains Kenya provides boom for animal feed business

By Bedah Mengo NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Kenya has experienced unreliable rains in the last few years, but while this has affected food production, it has brought new opportunities in the livestock sector.

The low rains have turned out to be a huge blessing to those keen on producing fodder for livestock, in particular dairy animals.

Farmers in semi-arid areas have taken the chance to produce fodder grasses on large scale, which they grow and sell to dairy farmers in other parts of the country at a premium fee.

The grasses currently being grown for commercial purposes include Boma Rhodes, Lucerne, Guatemala and Kikuyu.

George Mwathe, a farmer in the dry Makueni, is among those currently growing fodder for sale.

“I was pushed into fodder growing because of persistent low rainfall that made farming of any other crop like maize, beans and even green grams difficult in this area. Fodder growing provided me with better opportunity,” Mwathe said on Friday.

On his four acres, the farmer grows Boma Rhodes and Lucerne for baling and sale to farmers in milk production regions.

“The rain is enough to grow the grasses to maturity because they do not need much water,” he said.

He was taught the art of growing grass and its benefits at a farmers’ training organized by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, a government agency.

“Later, myself and other farmers were given 10 kg of four varieties of fodder seeds that include Boma Rhodes and Lucerne. I also got African Foxtail but I dropped it since it did not do very well,” he said.

Besides the grass, he also harvests seeds for sale to others.

“I normally harvest seeds and grass twice or thrice a year and earn at least 2,000 U.S. dollars from the venture. With these grasses, I have beaten the dry spell and I am able to educate my children,” he says.

Seed production includes waiting for the grass to over-mature and produce seeds, which he waits they dry.

Miles away in the arid part of Tharaka Nithi County, Cornelius Kathangi is another farmer who is growing Boma Rhodes grass and at the same time offering baling services to tens of farmers engaged in the trade.

“Tharaka Nithi is largely semi-arid, making it difficult for any crops to grow well but with fodder, business is good,” said Kathangi, who sells his produce to farmers mainly in Meru and Kirinyaga.

He grows the fodder on seven acres and for baling he owns a mower, a baler, a rake, a tracker and a forage harvester. To bale Boma Rhodes, he charges at between 0.5 dollars and 0.9 dollars depending on the season.

Besides farmers like Kathangi, there are also people who are only doing baling while not engaged in fodder farming.

John Gature, who harvests the grass and bales for farmers using machines, said he processes at least 50,000 bales during the December-February season.

He charges between 0.5 and 0.80 dollar to harvest a bale of grass, which goes from 3.5 dollars to 5 dollars, depending on the season.

With dairy farming of goats and cows increasing in Kenya, fodder production has a bright future especially as rains become erratic.

Bernard Moina, an agricultural extension officer in western Kenya, noted that fodder farming has created a niche in agribusiness in arid areas.

He notes that from an acre of pasture, a farmer can get up to 3,000 dollars per year when the season is good.

“But what gives most farmers money are seeds as they can go from between 5 dollars to 10 dollars per kilo,” he said, noting the business is awakening farmers in arid areas.

             

 

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