Research on fodder business in Kenya need a multidisciplinary approach involving agronomists, plant breeders, economists and animal production specialists. Some of the key research areas that would boost fodder production, conservation and trade include the following:
1. Over-reliance on Rhodes grass
There is over reliance of Rhodes grass as the preferred grass for making hay. Most people are willing to buy Rhodes grass hay because they believe the grass produces high quality hay. However, some of the hay produced are of low quality. A study on alternative fodder suitable for conservation and trade in various agro ecological zones is needed.
2. Fodder trade
Currently traded fodder and in particular size of bales and their quality needs a study. The assumption that all bales weigh 15kg is not true. Most hay bales weigh between 8 to 12kg but farmers are told it is 15kg when buying. Most of the hay that is sold lack quality and that’s the more need to understand what is available. Once the quantities and qualities are ascertained, hay can be packed and sold based on quality. This is important to farmers because they would have better prediction on the performance of their animals upon purchasing and feeding certain qualities of hay. This aspect is lacking and that’s why farmers in Kajiado and other places in the country buy anything that is baled believing that it is hay.
3. Utilization of Arid and Semi Arid Lands
Grazing animals has been a way of life especially for beef cattle keepers in Kenya, utilizing natural pastures especially in the Arid and Semi Arid Lands (ASAL). This justifies the need to improve natural pastures in ASAL and other areas. There is a great potential to increase fodder production in ASAL because that is where the land is. A lot of emphasis has been on dairy production and in so doing neglecting beef production which is a major contributor to the economy in the ASAL and the country in general.
4. Repatriation of African fodder varieties
There is need to repatriate many African fodder varieties from other countries like India, Argentina, Brazil and others back into Kenya. These can then be adapted to the various agro ecological zones especially in the ASAL.
5. Emerging trends about fodder
More studies are needed to understand emerging trends about fodder / pasture production and in particular, detailed analysis to establish trends, their economics and the demand. Agronomic and productivity studies to identify broadly on fodder varieties suitable for various agro ecological zones should continue.
6. Fodder breeding and multiplication
So as to move faster in fodder breeding and identifying suitable strains, matters into selection and mutation breeding should be applied so that greater progress can be made. The issue of seeding ability which is a very important trait need a lot of attention. Invasive species such prosopis that is causing devastation in Kajiado. Even if farmers are allowed to produce seeds and distribute them directly to other farmers, it is in most cases not easy to get the seeds. Availability of fodder seeds has been a problem at Kenya Seed Company in Kitale because of seeding ability and the influence of disease. Community fodder seed systems can be up scaled to fast track fodder production. Makueni County is a good example where using farmers, the county has been able to produce adequate seeds and most of the county is now sufficient in terms of fodder.
7. Alternative methods of fodder conservation
Research on alternative methods of fodder conservation is required. Pelleting, feed block making are examples which can reduce the cost of transportation. Important questions to ask are what are the economics and what are the effects on the quality of products so produced. But in the long run it will be easier and cheaper to transport fodder. Take the case of transporting a 12Kg hay bale (most bales rarely weigh 15kg) at a price of KES 200 in Nakuru to Mandera. By the time it reaches that destination the cost would have quadrupled to KES 800. That is extremely expensive. The cost can be greatly reduced by pelleting, making into blocks or other methods of compacting. This goes together with appropriate technology and equipment for medium and small scale levels for seeding and compacting fodder. Theses technology and equipment should be cost effective for harvesting fodder seed and increasing the mass to volume ration of conserved fodder.
8. Water conservation
Water conservation techniques for fodder production especially in dry areas is an important research area. There are examples of water conservation technologies in Australia and Israel that can be used to grow fodder for grazing in dry lands. This can happen in Kenya but adaptation studies need to be done to find out the best way and how it can work.
9. ICT based technology sharing platforms
Another area for consideration is ICT based technology sharing platforms. We can start by validating existing information sharing technologies across the world then make recommendations of what is suitable in Kenya. There are platforms in India which work very well and others in China but in Chinese that can be developed. And for this to be practical, partnership with the private sector will be very important but the private person must see a business case for it, otherwise they will not be willing to do it. There used to be one such platform in this country but when KALRO and other agencies merged, that system died and it will take an equivalent amount of money which was used to generate it, to develop it and restart it. Farmers should be able to ask questions or send queries through their mobile phones and get answers. There was also one ran by Access Kenya but I don’t know how easy it is for farmers to get into it. One technology sharing platform for fodder can be done especially with private partnership. Meanwhile in the short term Huduma Centres can be used to access information. These centres have a lot of information except agriculture related. Desks on fodder information such as seeds, outlets, establishment, marketing and banking can be established at these centres to boost information sharing.
10. Animal feeding models
Queries by livestock farmers on what the effect on production of feeding certain type of grasses would be calls for studies on modelling. Questions such as the expected milk yield on feeding cows on for example, Napier grass can be answered very easily by models. But developing models require a lot of data. This data comes from animal nutrition studies that determine responses to feeding identified fodder, taking into consideration such issues as how performance is affected by quantity and quality. This data can be generated by animal nutritionists to be used in modelling which then can be used for extension advisory services to farmers. Generating this data takes time but with adequate effort this can be achieved in 3 to 4 years. With this data models can be built to predict what happens when livestock are fed certain combination of feeds.
11. Research funding
One of the areas of concern in research is that it is a very expensive exercise. The listing of almost all research that has been done under KARI, now KALRO, is either funded by the Netherlands, FAO, SNV, USAID or some other institutions. The challenge here is for the National Government to seriously consider allocating enough resources to research and extension, both in universities and KALRO, or other interested parties. This is in line with what the Malabo Declaration is about.