Dairy farming is an important enterprise for income generation, food security and manure production in Kenya’s medium
and high rainfall areas. Furthermore the crossbred dairy cows kept by most smallholders have a potential to produce ten (10) litres or more of milk per cow per day. However, because of inadequate quantity and quality of feed, most dairy cows produce an average of six (6) litres per cow per day during the wet season and three (3) litres or less in the dry season.
Most smallholders therefore do not get adequate income from their dairy cows to meet their household needs. Participatory Rural Appraisals (PRAs) in various parts of Kenya show that land size is a key limiting factor to the production of forage due to drastic subdivision, fragmentation and intensive cultivation.
Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum) is one of the most important forages producing high herbage yield per unit area of land and is thus the most popular and widely grown forage by smallholders in East Africa and it forms up to 40 percent of dry matter in the diet of smallholder dairy cattle. In the recent months, Farmers, largely in the Rift Valley, have discovered a solution to Kenya’s perennial milk shortages, and low milk production. This discovery lies not with cattle, but with growing smart grass, through a technique being promoted by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI). Dubbed the Tumbukiza Method (TM), the technique is seeing farmers growing highly productive Napier grass on small pieces of land.
This techniques was borrowed from how smallholders use their small parcels of land intensively to produce high value
crops e.g Bananas and coffee planted in pits, with heavy doses of dung. The crops performed very well and were high yielding. Farmers started to use the same technology to plant their Napier grass. They started planting Napier grass in pits which they fertilized heavily with cow dung , a technology they called “Tumbukiza” (a Kiswahili word meaning “to put into a hole or pit”). Farmers in claim that Napier grass planted using Tumbukiza technology is higher yielding (than when conventionally planted) especially where soil moisture is low.
In Rift Valley where many small scale farmers have now adopted the method, production per hectare Napier grass has risen by 20 per cent and milk yields have gone up by over 50 per cent. Specialists at KARI Kitale Office say that , the method is suited for farmers in regions with limited rainfall and where farmers have small land parcels.
Tumbukiza Method guarantees the optimum utilisation of the available land and sustains more dairy cows than where Napier Grass is grown conventionally. One acre of land where TM is adopted can sustain 2 to 3 dairy cows for a year,
against the one cow and a calf sustained where Napier grass is planted in the normal way. The method also enhances soil fertility and moisture levels. Napier Grass is planted in circular or rectangular holes. From one acre piece, a farmer can dig 1,121 suitable holes. Two to three holes of well grown nappier are enough to provide one dairy cow with enough feed for a day, an equivalent to 70kgs of fresh pasture. The technique is made effective, by growing the recommended type of grass.
For example farmers in regions like West Pokot, Kitale, Uasin Gishu the Bana Napier variety which matures in just 90 days seems to be the preferred type. Farmers can harvest upto 20 tonnes of fresh pasture per acre. Other Napier varieties at optimum are known to produce 16 tonnes. Framers say that this Napier variety is leafier and has a soft stem and cows seems to eat more of it. The TM itself is done in rectangular and circular pits. Round pits are dug 2 feet deep and 2 feet in diameter. The rows of pits are dug 2 feet apart. The rectangular pits are also dug 2 feet deep, 2 to 3 feet wide, and 3 feet apart. One to two containers of around 20kg of manure are added into the pits. Towards the top, 6 inches of unfilled space are left at the top of each pit. Then in each pit 5 to 10 cane cuttings are planted and the upper unfilled space topped with top soil. Once the cuttings germinate Cheruiyot advises farmers to weed the pits. They can also plant cover crops like sweet potatoes between the pits. When the Napier is 2 to 3 feet high, after 4 to 6 weeks, 20kg of manure, or compost, or farm yard slurry are applied.
Steps for Tumbukiza technology
-Plough and harrow the field well
– Dig pits with spacing of 60x 60 cm or 60 cm x 90 or 90 x 90 cm depending on moisture regime
– Mix 1 depe (20 liter tin) of top soil with 1 0r 2 depes of FYM
– Put the soil-farmyard manure into the pit leaving 1 cm space at the brim
– Plant 5-10 cuttings/canes/root splits per hole
Around 10,000 semi arid small holder livestock farmers have so far adopted the Tumbukiza Method to grow Napier. Due to the water conserved through other cover crops, mulch and compost manure, Napier continues growing in dry season. For the farmers milk production is not interrupted in dry spells and feed is always available. In Rift Valley region small holder farmers who adopted TM and got 10 litres initially, now have seen an increase in are getting from 15 to 18 litres of milk and now also have more space on often tiny plots for growing other crops.