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The meat and milk production of a cow is only as good as the feed it gets. Through a project led by the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub, dairy farmers in the semi-arid regions of Kenya are discovering that Brachiaria, the grass which transformed the livestock industries of Brazil and Australia, can turnaround their low production levels.

Brachiaria grasses are highly nutritious, possessing about 12 per cent protein at harvest which can be sustained over a long period as compared to the commonly used Napier grass whose protein concentration starts diminishing after about four months. The leaves, which form a greater proportion of the plant, are also more palatable and easily digestible. Since Brachiaria grasses thrive all year round, farmers are able to enjoy a constant supply of animal fodder. After a bumper harvest, Brachiaria can easily be dried in the sun and conserved as hay for sale or future use.

Brachiaria grass is not only good for livestock, but has proven useful in the alleviation of the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and ground water pollution. The high amounts of biomass produced by the grass sequester carbon and enhance nitrogen use efficiency through biological nitrification inhibition (BNI).

Through the Swedish funded research project, scientists from the BecA-ILRI Hub, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, Rwanda Agriculture Board, International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Grasslanz Technology Limited and AgResearch (New Zealand), are developing varieties of Brachiaria grasses that are well suited to different local environments across eastern Africa. The project aims at promoting the mass cultivation of the grass in Kenya and other African countries so that the continent can eventually also reap the benefits of her native grass.

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By Sarah Ooko

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