Growing Napier grass in Kenya is an important agricultural activity, particularly for dairy farmers. Napier grass is a high-yielding and nutritious forage crop that is used to feed livestock, particularly dairy cows. It is also popularly known as elephant grass or Uganda grass.
There are several methods of planting Napier grass, including using cuttings, splits, and whole stems. The conventional method involves planting one cane (with 3–4 nodes) or root split in holes 15–30 cm deep. The spacing is 0.5 m x 0.5 m in areas with high rainfall and 0.75 m x 0.75 m in areas with low rainfall.
However, there are new planting methods that have been developed to increase yields by up to 20%. One of these methods involves planting the pieces of stem at 60 cm intervals along the line, angled into the ground at about 30 degrees. Two of the three nodes on the cuttings should be buried in the soil. This method has been shown to increase milk yields by up to 50%.
Benefits of Growing Napier Grass
Napier grass is a popular fodder crop in Kenya. It is a high-yielding, fast-growing, and drought-tolerant plant that provides a range of benefits to farmers. Here are some of the benefits of growing Napier grass:
- High Yield: Napier grass is a high-yielding crop that can provide up to 400 tons of fresh forage per hectare per year. This makes it an excellent choice for farmers who want to maximize their yields and increase their income.
- Drought Tolerance: Napier grass is a drought-tolerant crop that can survive in areas with low rainfall. It has deep roots that can reach up to 3 meters, allowing it to access water from deep in the soil.
- Soil Conservation: Napier grass can help to prevent soil erosion and improve soil fertility. Its deep roots help to hold the soil together and prevent it from washing away during heavy rains. It also adds organic matter to the soil, improving its fertility.
- Animal Feed: Napier grass is an excellent source of animal feed. It is highly nutritious and can help to improve the health and productivity of livestock. It is also palatable, meaning that animals enjoy eating it.
- Income Generation: Growing Napier grass can be a profitable enterprise for farmers. They can sell the forage to other farmers or use it to feed their own livestock. They can also sell the seeds or the plant cuttings for propagation.
Overall, Napier grass is a versatile crop that can provide a range of benefits to farmers. It is easy to grow, requires minimal inputs, and can be a valuable source of income. By growing Napier grass, farmers can improve their yields, conserve their soil, and provide nutritious feed for their livestock.
Selecting the Right Variety of Napier Grass
Napier grass is a versatile crop that can thrive in different soil types and climatic conditions. However, choosing the right variety is essential to ensure optimal growth and yield. Here are some of the factors to consider when selecting the right variety of Napier grass:
- Adaptability: Look for a variety that can adapt well to your local soil and climate conditions. French Cameroon and Bana grass are some of the common varieties that can grow in various regions of Kenya.
- Growth rate: Select a variety that has a fast growth rate to ensure a steady supply of feed for your livestock. Super Napier grass is a hybrid variety that can grow up to 4 meters tall within 3 months.
- Disease resistance: Choose a variety that is resistant to common diseases such as smut, rust, and leaf blight. Kakamega 1 and 2 are some of the varieties that have shown resistance to smut.
- Nutrient content: Consider the nutrient content of the variety, especially the protein and fiber content. Brachiaria grass has a higher protein content than Napier grass, while Napier grass has a higher fiber content.
It is also important to note that some varieties may be more suitable for silage production, while others may be better for grazing. Consult with local experts or extension officers to get recommendations on the best variety for your specific needs and conditions.
Preparing the Land for Planting
Before planting Napier grass, it is important to prepare the land properly to ensure optimal growth and yield. Here are some steps to follow:
1. Clear the Land
The first step is to clear the land of any weeds, rocks, or other debris that may interfere with the growth of the Napier grass. Use a hoe or plow to till the soil and remove any large obstacles. This will also help to aerate the soil and improve drainage.
2. Test the Soil
It is important to test the soil to determine its pH level and nutrient content. This will help you to determine what type of fertilizer to use and how much to apply. You can get a soil testing kit from your local agricultural extension office or hire a professional to do it for you.
3. Apply Fertilizer
Based on the results of the soil test, apply the appropriate type and amount of fertilizer to the soil. Organic fertilizers such as manure or compost are ideal for Napier grass as they release nutrients slowly over time. Spread the fertilizer evenly across the soil and mix it in with a hoe or rake.
4. Create Planting Holes
Using a hoe or plow, create planting holes that are approximately 60-75 cm (24-30 inches) apart. The holes should be deep enough so that two of the three nodes on your cuttings will be buried in the soil. Space the rows of planting holes at least 1 meter apart.
5. Water the Soil
After creating the planting holes, water the soil thoroughly to ensure that it is moist and ready for planting. This will also help to settle the soil and make it easier to plant the Napier grass cuttings.
By following these steps, you can prepare the land properly for planting Napier grass and ensure a successful harvest.
Planting Napier Grass
Napier grass is a popular fodder crop in Kenya. It is easy to grow and provides high yields of nutritious feed for livestock. Here are some steps to follow when planting Napier grass:
Step 1: Choose the Right Variety
There are several varieties of Napier grass, and it is important to choose the right one for your area. The most common varieties in Kenya are Bana, Kakamega 1, and Kakamega 9. These varieties are known for their high yields and good resistance to diseases.
Step 2: Prepare the Land
Clear the land of any weeds or other vegetation. Plough the land to a depth of 15-20 cm and harrow it to break up any clods of soil. Level the land to ensure even growth of the grass.
Step 3: Plant the Cuttings
There are three methods for planting Napier grass: by cuttings, splits, and whole stems. The most common method is planting by cuttings. Cuttings should be taken from healthy Napier grass plants that are at least six months old. Cut the cuttings into pieces that have at least two nodes each. Dig holes that are 60-75 cm apart and deep enough so that two of the three nodes on your cuttings will be buried. Plant the cuttings in the holes and cover them with soil. Water the cuttings immediately after planting.
Step 4: Fertilize the Soil
Napier grass requires fertile soil to grow well. Apply manure or fertilizer to the soil before planting. A recommended rate is 20-30 tons of manure per hectare. If using fertilizer, apply 150-200 kg of DAP per hectare.
Step 5: Maintain the Crop
After planting, it is important to maintain the crop to ensure good yields. Weed the field regularly to prevent competition for nutrients and water. Apply fertilizer or manure every three months to keep the soil fertile. Harvest the grass when it is 1.5-2 meters tall. Cut the grass 15 cm above the ground to allow for regrowth.
Caring for Napier Grass
Once your Napier grass is established, it is important to take care of it properly to ensure optimal growth and yield. Here are some tips for caring for your Napier grass:
- Watering: Napier grass requires consistent watering, especially during dry periods. It is best to water the grass deeply once or twice a week rather than frequent shallow watering. Avoid overwatering as it can lead to root rot.
- Fertilization: Napier grass requires regular fertilization to maintain its growth and yield. Use a balanced fertilizer with equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Apply the fertilizer every 6 to 8 weeks during the growing season.
- Weeding: Remove any weeds growing around the Napier grass as they compete for nutrients and water. Hand pulling or hoeing is recommended as herbicides can damage the grass.
- Pruning: Prune the Napier grass regularly to promote new growth and prevent the grass from becoming too tall and unmanageable. Cut the grass to a height of 30-50 cm (12-20 inches) above the ground.
- Pest and disease control: Monitor the Napier grass regularly for pests and diseases such as armyworms, cutworms, and smut. Use appropriate pesticides and fungicides to control them.
By following these simple tips, you can ensure that your Napier grass remains healthy and productive for years to come.
Harvesting and Utilizing Napier Grass
Harvesting Napier grass is a straightforward process that can be done at any time of the year. The grass should be cut when it reaches a height of 1.5 to 2 meters. The first cut can be made 3 to 4 months after planting, and subsequent cuts can be made every 2 to 3 months. It is important to leave a stubble of at least 15 cm to allow for regrowth.
The harvested grass can be used for a variety of purposes, including:
- Feeding livestock: Napier grass is a highly nutritious fodder for cattle, goats, and sheep. It is rich in protein, minerals, and vitamins, and can help improve milk production and meat quality.
- Producing silage: Silage is a fermented feed that can be stored for long periods and is an excellent source of nutrition for livestock. To make silage from Napier grass, it should be chopped into small pieces and compacted tightly in a pit or silo. The grass should be covered with a plastic sheet to prevent air from entering and causing spoilage.
- Generating biogas: Napier grass can be used as a feedstock for biogas production. Biogas is a renewable energy source that can be used for cooking, lighting, and powering engines.
- Making compost: Napier grass can be composted to produce organic fertilizer. Compost is a rich source of nutrients that can help improve soil fertility and crop yields.
In conclusion, Napier grass is a versatile crop that can provide a range of benefits to farmers. By following the proper harvesting and utilization techniques, farmers can maximize the yield and quality of their crop and improve the health and productivity of their livestock.
Sources: Orodho, A. B. “The role and importance of Napier grass in the smallholder dairy industry in Kenya.” (2006). Link: https://www.doc-developpement-durable.org/file/Culture/Culture-fourrages/herbe_a_elephant/Pennisetum%20purpureum/role%20of%20napier%20grass%20in%20Kenya.pdf
Khan, Zeyaur R., et al. “Assessment of the potential of Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum) varieties as trap plants for management of Chilo partellus.” Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata 119.1 (2006): 15-22. Link: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1570-7458.2006.00393.x