We have chosen to grow grass over maize, farmers say as drought bites

John Komen. He says he opted to grow pasture due to losses in maize production. [File, Standard]

The high cost of maize production is driving farmers to opt for alternative income-generating ventures in parts of the North Rift region.

A number of farmers in Trans Nzoia county have resorted to pasture cultivation.

They are happy since they are gaining lucrative returns within short intervals.

In Kapsitwet area, Kwanza constituency, at least 1,200 acres that were under maize production have been converted into pasture-producing farms. An estimated 600 farmers are growing grass for livestock.

John Komen said he opted to grow pasture due to losses in maize production. Komen, who is also an established dairy farmer, said pasture production has more returns as compared to cultivating maize.

When he got an early retirement from the Kenya Postal Cooperation in 1986, Komen ventured into maize production in his five-acre piece of land in Trans Nzoia County.

But, he says, over the years, he has been making losses.

"The invasion of maize fields by deadly pests and disease infestations made it worse. I had to rethink my plans," he said.

Komen was among the first farmers in the region to abandon the crop for beans, which he also barely produced for two years.

He has managed to mobilize his fellow dairy farmers to form a cooperative society that helped them to lobby for better milk prices.

"The entrance of another investor in milk production brought competition that ensured steady prices, " he said.

Through the Kapsitwet Ogilgei Cooperative society formed after mobilising Sh 2 million in funds for capital from politicians and well-wishers, the farmers continued to have better bargaining power for their produce.

Komen and other pasture farmers grow the Boma Rhodes variety of grass and use 2-4-D herbicide for the control of weeds.

Currently, Komen harvests about 3,500 bales from his farm each season and he says, he is not looking back.

A bale of hay ranges from between Sh 350 and Sh 450 depending on the season.

Job Sang, also a pasture farmer in Kapsitwet, says his trial in pasture production was a good move.

"This scheme has about 600 farmers and at least 80 per cent of them currently grow pasture for both personal use and for sale. The returns are good and we have no regrets," he said.

Sang called on the government to support maize farmers citing that it would be costly to import the produce.