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Why napier grass needs to be put in focus by arrey ivo
 

Why napier grass needs to be put in focus by arrey ivo

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Why Napier grass needs to be put in focus ...

Why Napier grass needs to be put in focus

Author: Arrey Mbongaya Ivo (Director)

African Centre for Community and Development
Traditional livestock systems and pastoral nomadism in Africa are facing grave challenges including diminishing range lands, climate change, desertification, human activities including the planting of monocrops, slash and burn practices and general poor management of grazing land. These challenges when merged to the scarcity engineered by minimal engagements from growing sub-populations in fields related to livestock rearing and agriculture, the situation becomes even more dire hence arguing for the need for a system that can guarantee animal food alongside traditional human agricultural systems in a viable agro-forestry or conservation agricultural dimension. This article holds that Napier grass stand out as a viable plant species that can be grown alongside other crops in order to achieve food security and improved income generation among sub-populations in Africa also known to facing high levels of poverty (Hall and Midgley, 2004).

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    Why napier grass needs to be put in focus by arrey ivo Why napier grass needs to be put in focus by arrey ivo Document Transcript

    • Why Napier grass needs to be put in focus Author: Arrey Mbongaya Ivo (Director) African Centre for Community and Development P.O.Box 181, Limbe, Cameroon http://youtube.com/user/AfricanCentreforCom ©2013 African Centre for Community and Development. All rights reserved.
    • Traditional livestock systems and pastoral nomadism in Africa are facing grave challenges including diminishing range lands, climate change, desertification, human activities including the planting of monocrops, slash and burn practices and general poor management of grazing land. These challenges when merged to the scarcity engineered by minimal engagements from growing sub-populations in fields related to livestock rearing and agriculture, the situation becomes even more dire hence arguing for the need for a system that can guarantee animal food alongside traditional human agricultural systems in a viable agro-forestry or conservation agricultural dimension. This article holds that Napier grass stand out as a viable plant species that can be grown alongside other crops in order to achieve food security and improved income generation among sub-populations in Africa also known to facing high levels of poverty (Hall and Midgley, 2004). Napier grass species grow widely in many parts of Africa including East, West and Central Africa. It is used as food for livestock and is eaten by certain tribes in the North West region of Cameroon as a supplement in the very popular Achu Soup. It has been tested with cattle and goats in zero grazing projects among vulnerable and low-income communities in East Africa as well. This article thus explores reasons and ways that Napier grass can be used by households as a viable source of food for livestock as well as an intricate part of the local farming systems. To begin with the following reasons act as push factors why Napier grass needs to be vulgarized among households to improve on their wellbeing:
    •  Firstly Napier grass has already been tested as a viable source of food by both traditional livestock keepers (Boonman, 1997) and donor-sponsored livestock keeping programmes in Africa.  More over, Napier has been observed to grow for up to 9 months in some ecosystems in Africa and to support extreme climatic conditions like extreme heat and rainfall which are also characteristic of many parts of Africa especially around the tropical rain forest areas and some parts of the grasslands in Cameroon.  Besides its natural propagation rate is rapid and in good soils Napier grass can grow with little or no human interventions. This reduces labour intensiveness that is vital for the propagation of other species.  More over many farmers in Africa do not only grow crops for their households or markets. They double as livestock keepers as part of complex strategies to increase on their income levels and to increase their access to proteins or to guarantee food security or fight poverty. Hence giving them a chance to grow Napier grass alongside the food they grow will improve on the capacity to diversify their incomes especially during global food or financial crises like in 2008.  Besides the cost of acquiring processed livestock feed is high for many households or farmers living below the poverty line in Africa. Alternatives like Napier grass offer the best hope for people in low income brackets to grow food and animals in cost saving less labour intensive and sustainable farming models.
    •  More so, the price of external inputs to grow maize plus the cost of processing maize, cow pea and other alternatives into livestock feed arguably support the idea that Napier grass can be the best option to adopt for agro-forestry schemes aiming to empower poor farmers, families in Africa and the developing communities across the globe.  Napier grass in the wild grows with other plant species and is eaten by grass cutters, rabbits, goats, cattle, guinea pigs etc. It therefore can be viewed as part of a natural ecosystem not an invasive species as it is considered many times. The fact that it is eaten by a wide array of ruminants gives the necessary flexibility that farmers within various vulnerabilities need in choosing the scale and the purpose or animal for which they will be growing Napier grass for and may also be a tool to improve access to proteins in a region in which over harvest of forest animals has also been reported..  Human consumption of Napier is low when compared to crops like maize, cassava etc hence making speculation on the grass very low or non-existent. Speculation leads to high prices especially with edible crop species and may also lead to food insecurity and the embedding of poverty in areas already affected by chronic poverty. Getting out of such poverty is very difficult and may require more resources in a globally resource scarce world.  Napier can be mixed with molasses to produce feed which farmers can use during periods of scarcity. Mixing Napier with molasses and tying them in dark plastic bags have been observed to increase the shelf life of the grass for as long as 3 years.
    • It is thus clear that there are many reasons why Napier grass can be used in agro-forestry and to improve on people’s wellbeing in Africa and the world. While as stated above some interventions have used Napier grass, the practice or knowledge about the practice is yet to be vulgarized so that it can impact on many more stakeholders. The reasons for this slow adaptation processes include:  Poor knowledge and information sharing between groups using Napier grass as a way of agro-forestry or as a simple fodder crop. This is coupled with the fact that research on the subject is usually limited to academic journals or articles that are unaffordable and inaccessible by the poor farmers or sub-populations living outside internet grids.  Little documentation on the subject has reduced the species’ power as a lucrative tool among the various sub-populations to diversify production and incomes.  The treatment of Napier as an invasive species in small scale farming systems has embedded systems that destroy Napier rather than grow it as feed.  Strong existing cultures of using alternatives like maize to make feed for animals. This arguably leads to a situation where people are paying high for animal feed not as the most suitable feed for their livestock but as the most acceptable and vulgarized across sub-populations.  More so there is little to vocational training centres focusing on the subject across the continent. This makes adoption to be slow and disjointed. However Napier grass still remains a widely growing animal food across Africa. Many farmers especially those who do not have large land have cultivated the grass in small plots to feed their livestock while some have grown the species among their other crops
    • as a form of agro-forestry. Based on the existence of different approaches on the use and methods of planting of Napier, the following ways stand out as possible inroads that can be used to adopt, use and improve their wellbeing with Napier grass.  Napier can be grown alongside tree species which are good in nitrogen fixation hence help to keep the soil fertile so that both species and other species can thrive within a single farm (Boonman, 1993). Other food crops like Gnetum africanum (Eru) which are climbers can also be planted near the trees. Other medicinal and edible plants like moringa, pepper, plantains etc can also be added in the system to increase the yields and possibilities for more returns to the farmers or families.  Local Napier varieties can also be improved to increase yield and resilience especially as many areas of Sub-Saharan Africa are hit by the harsh fallouts of climate change including desertification and the loss of livelihoods hence poverty.  More so, many more stakeholders should be trained into Napier grass cultivation in order to vulgarize its use across sub-populations. More users and more diverse farming systems will reduce farmer dependence on expensive alternatives like maize based industrial feeds impacted by speculation and which are generally beyond the rich of many segments of population already affected by vertical and horizontal inequalities.  More over, Napier can be farmed industrially and sold in local markets just other edible vegetables or even grasses. With diminishing rangelands recorded across many parts of Africa, land can be allocated by governments and communities for the farming of Napier grass for national and community needs. Education aimed at transforming local logic which generally places Napier grass as an invasive
    • species will have to be reshaped. Civil Society Organizations, farmer field schools and traditional authorities must play active roles with their citizens or governments in ensuring effective delivery of such interventions aimed at improving use of Napier grass.  Other related fodder technologies or livelihoods options which use Napier in production and preservation of feed with molasses must also be encouraged to attract new users and maintain old users whose present livelihoods strategies are increasingly under threat from desertification, droughts, loss of pastureland from climate variability etc.  Napier grass can be used in models of conservation agriculture. It can be used to feed pigs and goats whose dung can be used to produce organic manure to improve on degraded soils hence impacting positively on crop yields and farmers’ income. Napier grass can be farmed alongside vegetables and nitrogen fixing plants Conservation agriculture is a labour saving device for vulnerable subpopulations as many species are planted together, harvested together and supplement each other on the farm (Bishop-Sambrook, C. 2003).  More so, if Napier grass is integrated in farming practices it will put the farmer in a powerful position to gather knowledge and improve on agricultural research generally as the farmer remains the closest observer between his species whether they be in an agro-forestry model, conservation agriculture or analogue forestry (Ashby et al, 2000). Increasing the practical leverage of farmers over their practices and the research there from leads to more farmer innovation hence the
    • possibility of vulgarizing knowledge gathered to other farmer unions or subpopulations. Despite the difficulties so far in vulgarizing use of Napier grass in many African communities, this article has successfully demonstrated that the grass needs to be put in more focus. It is a resilient local species in many African communities. It is eaten by humans and animals and can be a viable alternative expensive industrial feed which is far beyond the income levels of many animal keepers. It can also grow alongside other edible plants hence should not always be treated as an invasive species but a necessary element in the fashioning of a sustainable agro-forestry intervention. . More so, it can be mixed with molasses to improve on its shelf life hence it can be very useful in areas where grass cultivation is seasonal, facing climatic threats or even where animal husbandry is affected by human activities including urbanization. Napier grass is thus a crop that should be treated with more keen interest in the 21st century in which populations are expected reach nine billions by 2050.
    • References and Bibliography Ashby, J.A., A.R. Braun, T. Garcia, M. P. Guerrero, L.A. Hernandez, C.A. Quiros and J.I. Roa. 2000. Investing in Farmers as Researchers: Experience with Local Agricultural Research Committees in Latin America. Cali, Colombia: Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical. 199pp. Anindo D.O. & Potter, H.L.1994. Seasonal variation in productivity and nutritive value of Napier grass at Muguga, Kenya. E. Afrc. Agric. For. J. 59:177-185. Bishop-Sambrook, C. 2003. Labour-saving technologies and practices for farming and household activities in Eastern and Southern Africa. Rome, FAO/IFAD. www.fao.org/ag/ags/subjects/en/farmpower/pdf/labour.pdf Bishop-Sambrook, C. et al. 2004. Conservation agriculture as a labour-saving practice for vulnerable households. Rome, FAO/IFAD. www.fao.org/ag/ags/programmes/en/enhance/FAO_IFAD_CA_Tanzania.pdf Boonman, J.G.1997. Farmers success with tropical grass: crop/pasture rotation in mixed farming in East Africa. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Hague. pp. 95. Boonman, J.G., 1993.East Africa’s grasses and fodders: Their ecology and husbandry. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dortrecht, Nethelands.pp.343. Brown, D. & Chavulimu, E.1985. Effects of ensiling on five forage species in Western Kenya: Zea mays (maize stover), Pennisetum purpureum (Pakistan napier grass), Pennisetum spp. (Bana grass), Ipomoea batatas (sweet potato vines) and Cajanus cajan (pigeon pea leaves). Anim. Feed Sci.Technol. 13:1-2.
    • Braun, A., G. Thiele and M. Fernandez. 2000a. Complementary Platforms for Farmer Innovation. ILEIA Newsletter July: 33-34. FAO & International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. 2004. Manual on integrated soil management and conservation practices. www.fao.org/ag/AGS/AGSE/agse_e/7mo/furt1h.htm Hall A, Midgley J. 2004. Social Policy for Development. Sage Publications: London. ©2013 African Centre for Community and Development. All rights reserved.