All over the world livestock play an important role as an income-generating avenue especially for most small-scale farmers. They provide traction to plough fields, manure which maintains crop productivity, and nutritious food products for human consumption.
In most small-scale farming systems livestock graze in pastures or woodlands feeding on grass and other herbaceous plants. During the wet season, these lands provide adequate forage to maintain productive animals.
In the dry season, however, the quantity and quality of forage greatly decreases and is generally low in nutritional value. Livestock sustained on such diets often lose weight and productivity.
To avoid these problems farmers must provide their animals with quality feeds to augment dry season forages. One option is to supply expensive concentrates or supplemental feeding.
For most small-scale farmers this is not possible due to the high cost and limited availability of supplements. A more practical option is for farmers to establish fodder banks. A fodder bank is a structure for storing forage of high-quality fodder species like legumes and grass. Their goal is to maintain healthy productive animals.
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They can be utilized all year, but are designed to bridge the forage scarcity of annual dry seasons. Fodder banks do not provide 100 per cent of feed requirements but supplement the available dry season forage.
The Kenya Network for Dissemination of Agricultural Technologies has been working with rural small-scale farmers in Tharaka Nithi County to help them improve their household incomes by educating them on fodder banking mechanisms.
According to Dr. Simon Topisia, Veterinary officer, Kendat, they have a programme aimed at empowering small-scale farmers in the county.
“This programme sought to establish measures to cushion livestock against the impact of drought through ensuring the availability of feeds throughout the year which in the long run would improve the community incomes. We have selected two community groups from Kamarandi and Kathangachini in Tharaka Constituency. The groups are mainly made up of over 50 women who own donkeys in the two areas. With the two groups, the programme established two model community fodder banks on a cost-sharing basis. A community fodder bank is a large-scale storage structure for livestock feed preservation in form of hay for use in dry periods. Each fodder bank can hold 10 tons of feeds that are estimated to support the livestock owned by the group members through a 2 - 3-month period of drought if supplemented with grazing, “says Dr Topisia.
Kenya’s agriculture is predominantly small-scale farming and is carried out on farms averaging 0.2 to 3 hectares mostly on a subsistence basis. Small-scale operations account for over 70 per cent of agricultural production and meet about 75 per cent of the national food demand.
Daniel Njeru is the Chairman of Kamarandi Farmers Self Group in Tharaka Nithi County who has benefited from the fodder banking initiative. The group is made up of 26 members of which 16 are women.
“Previously our income was below Sh60,000 per month as a group but today we hit Sh200,000 since we adopted the fodder banking idea that enabled us to have sufficient feed for our animals all season, “says Njeru.
Eston Murithi, Kendat, CEO points out that smallholder livestock keepers rely on livestock assets such as goats and cattle as their livelihood source.
“This livestock are often not spared from the effects of recurrent drought which leads to loss of body condition and sometimes deaths due to lack of feeds to sustain them through the drought period. Donkeys, therefore, form a major part in sustaining the wellbeing of other livestock by fetching water and feed during drought. Additionally, donkeys also support the women of Tharaka with household chores such as fetching water, food, and charcoal.”
He added that they have engaged the Self-Groups on the construction of the fodder banks, the groups were trained on drought preparedness and dryland fodder production and preservation in collaboration with the County Government of Tharaka Nithi.
The training is focused on improving the existing community knowledge of drought coping mechanisms such as methods of fodder farming and preservation of crop residues. These communities rely on growing drought-tolerant crops such as green grams and sorghum, which other than being food for humans; their residues can be used as livestock feed. Since the establishment of the banks, the groups have been able to store crop residues and hay.
Jane Gacheri is the Treasurer of the group opines that Tharaka Constituency is considered a semi-arid area as it receives little rainfall suitable for livestock production. This has impacted the small-scale farmers’ income.
“Most of us were barely surviving during the dry seasons; we could lose almost half our livestock to famine but with the fodder banking we can now make a good and decent living with our livestock since we have animal feed for the entire year, “comments Gacheri.
Moses Rubane a member of the group echoes her sentiments.
Rubane adds that “The fodder bank project presented us with opportunities to create an additional source of income since we could sell the extra fodder at a cost during the dry season and the profit made from the sale of the hay is kept in the group’s account for later use to purchase more hay or engage in other income-generating projects for the group.”
Murithi also reveals that unlike in the past when livestock owners would buy small bundles of hay of unknown quality in the open-air markets; the fodder banks offer quality, well-preserved hay from known sources.
“In partnership with the County Government of Tharaka Nithi, plans are underway to conduct indigenous seed bulking and multiplication and carry out feed qualitative analysis to ascertain the nutrient content that can also facilitate branding and encourage replication of the community fodder bank concept across the county."