Ololulunga in Narok South is one of the most fertile areas in the country and in the past received rainfall throughout the year, enabling residents to produce wheat in plenty.
However, a dry spell has hit the region in the past three seasons, disrupting farming activities.
Andrew ole Koriata is one of the farmers who have adapted to the changing weather pattern by shifting to Boma Rhodes farming.
The 27-year-old Bachelor of Commerce graduate, who runs Nyasi Farm, grows the grass on 137 acres, having quit his job at a human resource firm in Nairobi to concentrate on farming.
“It is over two years now and I do not regret it. Maize and wheat farming flopped due to lack of rains, high cost of production, low yields and poor market. We have to change with the tide,” says the father of one.
Of the 137 acres, 17 acres belong to his family while he has leased the rest.
“I started with two acres, investing Sh95,000, then increased the acreage progressively and my target is farming 200 acres. My family used to grow maize and wheat but we encountered a lot of challenges,” he says, adding that growing grass is more profitable.
Koriata says Boma Rhodes grows in a wide range of soils. He first ploughs the land and harrows when the weeds emerged to reduce competition during establishment.
“Rhodes grass is established from the seeds, I make my own and plant them during the onset of rains. I use a fertiliser spreader because of the size of my farm; small farmers can employ broadcasting methods,” he offers.
For an acre, he mixes 6-7kg of seeds with 25kg of fertiliser then broadcasts them. Thereafter he compacts the farm by allowing the tractor to move around the farm.
“This is to ensure that the seeds are not scattered by the wind. It also increases the germination rate. For high yields, one must apply a nitrogenous fertiliser preferably during rainy seasons soon after harvesting – at the rate of 50kg per acre,” he says.
The grass is harvested soon after it flowers, according to him. “It’s cut close to the ground to enhance spreading. It takes another three to four months to be harvested again, with an acre producing up to 240 bales,” says Koriata.
According to him, high-quality hay has a bright green colour with little fading and is free of weeds.
That means it must be cut just before the seeds become ripe and be allowed to sit in the sun for not more than two days before being baled to avoid moisture issues and finally placed in a dry, cool area.
RESISTANT TO DROUGHTS
Normally, he cuts the grass then after two days bales it. “I recently acquired a baler, a tractor, a rake and mower for the job,” says Koriata, who adds that no common disease affects the grass, though the Fall armyworm may attack the crop in the early stages.
Fodder farming has brought him a good fortune as he harvests more than 27,000 bales of hay per year and sells each at Sh200.
“This is a lucrative business. I make a good profit when I sell at Sh200 each, though some people sell up to Sh300 at the height of the dry spell.”
He has a ready market for the produce since many families in the area keep dairy cows.
“During dry spells, I supply them with hay that I store on my farm. But many dairy farmers pay for hay in advance – while the grass is still in the field – and harvest for themselves when ready because of the high demand,” says the farmer, who has employed three permanent workers and engages up to seven others on causal basis.
According to him, Boma Rhodes has high yields because it is planted every seven years and one harvests three times a year.
“I make extra cash by harvesting seeds from the grass, which I sell to other farmers. I also offer field extension services to them too,” he adds.
He harvests six to seven kilos of seeds per acre and sells each at Sh700.
Jecinta Mwirigi, a livestock expert, notes that there are various varieties of Rhodes grass, Boma Rhodes being one of them.
“The grass grows well in areas with low rainfall, is resistant to drought, is good for grazing, very palatable and is good for hay making, besides having excellent herbage.”
Other fodder crops whose seeds are available in the market include Elmba Rhodes, which is suited for a wide range of climatic conditions but does best in sandy soils and has high seeding vigour and forage yield. It is also soft and has good herbage.
Mbarara Rhodes, Nandi Seteria, Nasiwa Setaria and Oats are the other fodder crops. There is also the drought-tolerant fodder sorghum, Columbus and Sudan Grass, which can be cut for two years without reduction in palatability.