Makueni County is classified as arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) and is characterized by low rainfall of about 150 - 650 mm per year and high temperatures that range from a minimum of 120C to a maximum of 280C. Much of the county has suffered environmental degradation mainly due to poor land use systems. The key drivers of land degradation in the county include: land fragmentation, land use change, over-exploitation of woodlands, overstocking, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, and spread of invasive plant species. As an adaptation strategy, farmers in Makueni County who are mainly livestock keepers, are now adopting technologies that can improve productivity of both land and livestock through growing of natural pasture grasses. One such farmer is Mr. Jeremiah Ngaya, a farmer in Makindu, Makueni County who adopted pasture improvement technology in 2008. The farmer’s intervention involves growing a range of natural pasture grasses adapted to semi-arid climatic conditions.
Objectives of growing natural pasture grasses are to:
- Enhance livestock pasture availability throughout the year.
- Improve livestock productivity.
Natural pasture grass farming was introduced after several years of crop failure and environmental degradation within Makueni County. The practice was identified, and established after consultation between research institutions within Makueni County and the local community. The community was instrumental in identifying indigenous pasture grass species that originally grew in the area. The four main grass species identified and selected for re-introduction were; Maasai love grass (Eragrostis superba), Foxtail grass (Chloris roxburghiana), African foxtail grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) and Bush rye (Enteropogon macrostachyus). The grasses were selected based on their resilience and ability to provide high quality feed even in the dry season. Grass seeds were then supplied by Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) formerly known as Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI).
To establish the pasture grasses, land is prepared using oxen-plough before on-set of the rains. The different grass seeds are mixed in an equal ratio and broadcast at a rate of 3-5 kg per ha after which they are thinly covered with a layer of soil. The grass crop can be managed for either seed or hay production. Seed is harvested when over 60% of the seed heads of a given grass type have turned golden brown. Harvesting is done during the dry season. High quality hay is derived from harvesting pre-seeded grass. For hay harvesting grass is cut at about six inches above the ground. Harvesting is mainly done by women using sickle cutters while men bale and store the hay. Hay may be dried under shade and then stored in a dry cool place. About 300 bales of hay can be harvested from one hectare under pasture grass. Re-planting of the grass is done after 6 to 7 years.
- The farmer has diversified sources of income through sale of grass seeds, hay and livestock products such as milk.
- The farmer now has healthy animals that fetch high prices in the market, leading to improved living standards.
- The farmer harvests 150 - 200 kg of seed from 1 acre of land. The seed sells at about Ksh 400 - 800 per kilogram fetching a minimum of Ksh 60,000 from 1 acre, an area which initially yielded Ksh 10,000 from sale of maize crop. The average milk yield in Makueni County has also increased (Table 1).
Table 1: Average milk yield in Makueni County before and after introduction of pasture grasses
|Type of livestock
||Amount of milk per animal per day (litres)
|Before introduction of pasture grasses
||After introduction of pasture grasses
- Other land users have gained knowledge on the practice from Mr. Ngaya leading to social cohesion.
- There is a general improvement in aesthetics as the area is now greener due to grass cover.
- Conflict has reduced after introduction of the practice since other farmers have access to pasture and hay.
- As pasture is available on-farm, farm families save time which can be used for other activities.
- The practice has created employment opportunities from harvesting of grass for seed and baling hay.
- Reduced soil erosion as land is now covered by grasses.
- Use of land that was previously idle and neglected due to degradation.
Mr Ngaya is able to sustain pasture production on his land and build capacity of local community on the good practice without external support. The local community has adopted the practice which is coordinated through a pasture farming group.
Innovations and Success Factors
- The farmer has formed a grass pasture farming group to ensure production and multiplication of quality seed and hay in quantities that can meet local and external markets.
- The farmer introduced cut-off drains on his land to enhance water harvesting and water infiltration into the soil.
- The area under the practice was expanded from an initial 2 ha to over 32 ha due to increase in demand for hay and grass seed.
- The farmer leases sections of his pastureland to other farmers for grazing during the dry season, therefore, increasing his income base.
- There is continuous learning from relevant institutions therefore improving knowledge base on pasture management.
- The farmer gets links to market through institutions and individuals who visit the farm.
The challenges encountered in applying the good practice include:
- Termite damage to grass
- Prolonged drought
- Demanding process of obtaining permit to export grass seed
The farmer counters the challenges by; terminating queen termites, constructing water harvesting structures, creating awareness and lobbying, respectively.
- Drylands have potential to produce improved natural pastures, grass seeds and hay to sustain livestock productivity throughout the year as well as generate income to improve farmers’ livelihood.
- Sharing knowledge through community sensitization, farm visits and training-of-trainers offers a good learning platform for farmers.
- Adoption of improved natural pasture management has reduced conflict on grazing land.
Adoption of improved natural pasture growing in the drylands enhances pasture availability, livestock productivity and improves farmers’ livelihood as well as resilience to climate change.
Mr. Jeremiah Ngaya is acknowledged for his informative interaction and willingness to share information on the good practice which enabled compilation of this extension material. The authors also appreciate; Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya Governments, for granting them an opportunity to attend the Regional Workshop on Collection and Documentation of Good Practices in Natural Resources Management.
Compiled by: Samuel Auka, Bisrat Getachew, Meselu Mamo, Mechal Kebede, Ali Mahamad, Ahmed Mouhoumed, Josephine Wanjiku, Mariam Karanja and Pius Matieka