The southward migration of herdsmen propelled by effects of climate change and desert encroachment, competition for land resources between herdsmen and local farmers make grass production imperative.
Again, low level of animal production in the savanna zones of Nigeria is generally associated with the inability to get enough grass to feed their animals especially in the dry season.
It is therefore the responsibility of government to ensure livelihood of both herders and farmers by identifying the needs and challenges faced by each group and come up with lasting solutions for the overall development of Nigeria’s agricultural sector.
Although Minister ofAgriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh proclaimed thatthe Federal Government had secured 55, 000ha of land from elevenstates of the Federation, and procured exotic grass seedlings toenhance fodder production and boost local beef and milk production,grazing reserves and/ or ranches are yet to be established across thecomplying states.
Similarly, Mahmud Bellowho is the National Coordinator of Grazing Stock Routes, FederalMinistry of Agriculture and Rural Development, also affirmed that 50hectares of land would be developed as pasture development centresfor seed multiplication in all the grazing reserves in the country.
Meanwhile, Mr Yunusa MIshiaku, a researcher on pasture production at the National AnimalProduction Research Institute (NAPRI) in Shika, Zaria noted thatindigenous grasses like Gamba and Stylo which are palatable animalsare on steady decline because of overgrazing hence the need toconserve them.
He advised government tocurtail the situation by re-seeding the institute and improving onthe local pasture grasses and legumes rather than importing exoticgrasses which he said may not be palatable to indigenous livestockbreeds.
“So there is no need toimport any grass from any country, what we need is to improve on ourindigenous grasses that our animals are already used to and it ismore palatable to them,”
“There would be a time,if conservation is not done, that you will ask a child about grassthey will tell you they don’t know it because they are not seeingit, but the problem is that we are not informed of that decision theMinister made if not we have what he needs here in NAPRI,” he said.
He narrated of how someSenators were amazed at the species available at the institute whichone of them had to import from Singapore because of lack ofinformation about its availability thereby incurring high cost ofimportation.
Mr Ishiaku lamented ofhow negligence by government has led to poor performance of theInstitute, adding that NAPRI has about 100ha of land for pastureproduction.
He stressed that NAPRIwas given the mandate to produce pasture by the Federal Government.One of the mandate he said was to develop improved pasture and rangemanagement technology, to identify forage resources that areadaptable to various ecosystems and also to carry out research in allaspects of forages in Nigeria.
Again, Yunusa allayedfears that the alleged imported grass species from temperatecountries may not be able to survive the vagaries associated withchange in climatic region.
“There is something we call multi-locational trial because these grasses are from temperate regions and are not used to our own environment so they will die, they are not going to survive because their climate condition is different. If you bring a grass and it survives in the north and it did not survive in the south you are not doing what is good because it has to be adaptable to various ecosystems in the country,” Ishiaku said.
He charged livestock farmers to be innovative and invest in grassland and livestock development and advised government to introduce micro ranches and spearhead improvement and funding of research institutes across the country.
Grass Production Farming is more Lucrative than Crop Farming
Mr Yunusa M Ishiaku notedthat pasture production is a highly lucrative and profit makingbusiness which starts raking in money in four to five months’ timeafter planting.
According to him,indigenous pasture forages like the Northern Gamba grass and theSouthern Gamba grass, Elephant grass, Rhodes grass, and legumes suchas Stylosanthes guianensis, popularly known as ‘Stylo’, and theCentrosema spp and Lablab can be cultivated in almost all theecological zones of the country.
Additionally, he revealedpasture grasses establishes after planting so that after harvesting,the field could be irrigated for the pasture grasses to regrow andthat it minimum fertiliser requirement and weeding of unwantedgrasses.
“The fertiliser ratefor Gamba grass is about 150kg per hectare of NPK 20:10:10 to beapplied twice; first at the early stages of growth and secondapplication at later stages of growth that is at three weeks youapply then between six and eight week you reapply. But sometimes ifthe soil is too poor you have to increase the rate,” he said.
While for leguminousgrasses, he advised that Single Super-Phosphate (SSP) fertilisershould be applied during land preparation at the rate of 30kg to 60kgper hectare.
Yunusa highlighted thatmajor problem limiting fodder production is that majority ofNigerians are unaware of its prospects, which he said could be doneside by side with food crops farming.
On profitability, MrIshiaku held that Congo grass could sell for up to N3, 000 per Kg,Rhodes grass N1, 500 per kg, Gamba grass N1, 000 per kg, while lablabcould sell for N1, 500 per kg.
He added that otherlegumes like Stylo costs N1, 500 per kilogram, Mucuna N1, 500 per kgand wooly finger grass which is propagated vegetatively is sold foras high as N25, 000 for 500sq. metres.
He revealed that apartfrom sales of pasture bales, seeds could also be harvested and soldfor relatively good prices, a kilogram of Gamba grass seeds forinstance sells for N1000, while Rhodes grass seeds could fetch up toN1, 500 per kg and Congo grass seeds N3, 000 per kg.
“For example, a farmercultivates one hectare of land and he decided to plant Congo grass,so he will buy 25kg of Congo grass, during the harvesting periodunder proper farming management he can be able to harvest 700 balesof the Congo grass using the mechanical method of baling or he canharvest it manually,”
“In NAPRI we areselling one bale which is equivalent to 14kg at N550 per bale andsome commercial farmers are selling it up to N1, 000 per bale that ismore N350, 000 per hectare which is the minimum a farmer could get,”he said.
Yunusa affirmed thatagain before harvesting the pasture, more than 200kg of seeds couldbe harvested from one hectare which could fetch up to N600, 000 forthe Congo grass which is a reasonable amount of money compared tofood crops farming.
He disclosed that incountries like Kenya, every household has its own pasture land whichis divided into paddocks for grazing their animals, adding that thiscould also be replicated in Nigeria so that there would be sufficientquality feed for animals to graze.
Mr Ishiaku pointed outthat Nigeria’s livestock are kept using traditional methods withnearly 90 per cent relying on very low quality grasses with about 10%crude protein during the rainy season and as low as 4%, which isbelow the critical recommended level of 7%.
“The grasses we havehere in Nigeria are low quality compared to the grasses in temperatecountries, so our grasses have to be improved, that is why we have tointercrop with legumes to improve the quality of the grass,” headvised.
He noted that the leguminous grasses are very nutritious, most especially the Lablab which has a crude protein of almost 25% like leguminous crops such as cowpea haulm and groundnut haulm which is why farmers mostly use them for fattening purposes because of the high quality protein they have.
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