In the face of the prolong conflicts between farmers and herders in parts of the country, which has continued to impede development and economic growth, Nigeria may not have any options than to invest heavily in the cultivation of grass production.
However, some countries have seen the benefits of investing in different species of grass to develop livestock sector to grow their economies. But the world most acceptable grass is Napier due to its highly rich content of soluble carbohydrates, which quickly produce energy that the cattle requires in milk production and this is why it is helping to increase cattle’s milk production.
Kenya, Botswana, Indian, and Sri Lanka have all used Napier to develop their cattle industry through ranching methods. Hence, there is need for Nigeria to join the league, as there are enormous opportunities in growing it in the country.
Commercial growing of the grass will help address the issue of the farmers and herders conflicts as pastoralists can now settle down with their herds of cattle where fodder crop and water are available. This is presently taking place in Grazing Reserves in Kaduna state.
Investigation by Daily Sun revealed that a cattle weighs between 250-300kg and consumes between 15 to 20 kg of Napier grass daily at the cost of N15 per kg. This means that a cattle consumes N300 worth of grass per day, indicating that Nigeria’s 19.5 million cattle population consumes N5.8 billion worth of grass daily. Converting this to yearly cost, the cattle consumes N5.8 billion multiply by 365 days gives N2.14 trillion market value of Napier grass production in Nigeria.
For cultivation, the country needs to grow Napier on 2, 600 hectares of land daily to feed its 19.5 million cattle population. This is the reason why intending farmers and youths across the country should take the numerous opportunities by engaging in Napier cultivation.
Stakeholders said that Nigeria has one of the lowest yields per cattle milk production of 0.5 to 1.5 litres on an average while other African country’s like Kenya and Botswana have an average of 6 litres per cattle.
Stakeholders hinted that the opportunity in Napier is enormous as the grass grows only in 45 days and can be cut off and regrow again in another 45 days. The planting methods are quite easy. Nigeria’s cattle breed is only good for meat production and not milk and that is why Nigeria’s yields are low. But with Napier grass, herders can increase their cattle milk in triple folds.
Speaking with Daily Sun, a consultant, Convention on Business Integrity, Celestine Ayok, said the grass is very good and the protein content is good for milk production and the energy content is also good. So far, among the grass Nigeria has across the country, Napier is one that has more yield and also the best in terms of yield per hectare, which he said can give grower about 150 tons per hectare.
He added: “We used the Napier grass and we have seen the benefits. I think the grass is one of the solutions to herders and farmers conflicts. We brought it from Kenya and we tried it in of the grazing reserves in Kaduna state and it was quite successful. We used to be animal that were given one litre of milk and our milk production increased to three litres after feeding that grass for about two weeks.
“And the good thing about the grass once you plant it, you can start using it after three months and in a hundred days, you can start harvesting but the only disadvantage I can say about the grass, you don’t graze it, you can only cut and carry. It maybe be a disadvantage maybe to herder but it is advantage because what makes pastoralists move is to look for grass and water. The good thing about the grass, the animal don’t need to go out and graze because you cut the grass and carry.”
Said he: “You cut again, after about 45 to 59 days, it grows again. The good thing about the grass, if you maintain and apply fertilizer and cow manure, which is very effective, after 45 to 50 days, it grows again. And once you plant it and maintain it very well, it can last for five years, which is the advantage.”
Speaking on the availability of seedlings, he said one of the Napier service providers established about 40 hectares in Jeri, where it produces seedlings and presently, there are over two millions seedlings that he is willing to sell to farmers to establish Nappier.
He explained that the grass can be planted across the country. “We plant it in Sokoto, Birnin Kebbi that is desert sound area. The good thing there is that, if you have about 800 millimeters of rainfall and good sunshine effect they are enough for it to do well.”
He noted that there is no age restriction in planting the Napier grass, as both adult and youth can engage in the production, which is why the grass is being called value chain benefits.
He said: “Youths can take it as profession and plant it and also make sure they have farmers around them. In Southwest, farmers have land limited space. The little space they have, can be used to keep their animals. The youth that has land around Southwest can plant, cut it and sell to farmers. In terms of value chain benefits, it is a win-win for everybody in the value chain.
“The livestock will have good feed, produce more milk, those fattening will have good milk. The cow dung manure can be a source of income. They sell to those that produce Nappier and the Nappier would now be cut and sole to the farmers, is a win-win situation in the entire value chain and yet it is a good source of employment opportunities for the youths especially for areas that cannot carve out land for pastoralists for their grazing reserves.”
He hinted: “But in the North, you can look at the situation where youths that are in the grazing reserves can do that and commercially service livestock farmers not only the pastoralists but people that keep livestock.”