On the day The Smart Harvest visits, it is a busy day for a group of innovative dairy farmers in Kagaari, Runyenjes Sub-county in Embu County
The team finds a group of dairy farmers, both men and women, carrying dried grass and delivering it to a man wearing a green overall.
As the man receives the grass, he quickly feeds it into a grass chopper machine which cuts and throws small pieces onto a black polythene liner spread on the ground.
Soon, there is a huge heap of chopped grass on the polythene line.
"We have had enough of chopped grass today - for the members and our clients. Now, we move to making the bales," says Teresto Mugendi as he signals the operator to stop the machine.
In two minutes, a green baler machine is brought, and members are back to work. They fetch dry grass from a nearby store and start stashing and pressing into a baler machine till it is full. The process continues as they churn out tens of bales.
Meanwhile, not far from the busy homestead, three men, also members of the same group, are harvesting Boma Rhodes using grass cutter machine.
This is Omoruru Maranga Dairy Cow CIG, a group of 29 small scale dairy farmers who have found an ingenious way of managing the high cost of animal feed and, in addition, generate revenue by selling the hay.
Mugendi says the group meets once a week. And this was one of their meeting days.
"We meet from morning to evening to discuss affairs and the wellbeing of the group. We also work on our dairy value chain project, hay production. We plant and manage Boma Rhodes for our members and also sell to the community for income," Mugendi explains.
Through the venture, they are able to make decent money for their daily needs.
But this has not always been the case.
About three years ago, each dairy farmer was managing their farm as an individual, yet they all faced similar challenges- high cost of dairy feeds.
"We were all grappling with the high cost of feeds in our different farms. None of us knew anything about Boma Rhodes," Mugendi explains.
Today, he says, Boma Rhodes is a godsent. The group depends on it for their dairy cows and money.
Mugendi says they no longer have to worry about persistent drought, which led to shortage of livestock feeds in the area, leading to low milk production.
"We have been experiencing a prolonged drought that resulted in scarcity of animal feeds like the normal grass and maize stalks. In fact, some of us were forced to destock and remain with just one or two cows we could manage," Mugendi says.
Lady luck smiled on them when in 2019, the farmers were linked to National Agricultural and Rural Inclusive Growth Project (NARIGP), a State-run project.
NARIGP is implemented through the State Department for Crop Development in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock Fisheries and Cooperatives with funding from the World Bank.
So how does it work?
Mugendi explains that they were first mobilised and asked to meet at a chief's baraza.
At the meeting, farmers met project officers from NARIGP, who informed them of the project meant to assist farmers increase production and profits from one of the four value chains; dairy, mangoes, green grams and chicken.
"We learned that the help was not automatic, or assured. We had to come up with a strong case so as to qualify."
One of the conditions was to form a group of not more than 30 people, which includes men, women and youths, which should be registered with Department of Social Development and issued with a certificate.
They then wrote a proposal requesting intervention in hay production since their main challenge had been access to affordable livestock feeds.
Their proposal made it through and members got training on how to manage Boma Rhodes grass.
"Through the agricultural extension officers, we learned of Boma Rhodes for the first time. We learnt everything from land preparation to harvesting, ways of feeding and value addition," explains secretary.
After training, the NARIGP project gave them farm equipment and inputs such as fertiliser, seeds, grass cutter, sacks, overalls, marks, chopping machines, gumboots, baler machine, polythene liners, agrochemicals, all worth of Sh484,500, which included the group's own contribution of Sh49,000.
The group says, they were told, once matures, Boma Rhodes can be fed to livestock fresh, dried into hay and preserved for future use.
They also learnt that it is a money making venture.
"When baled, Boma Rhodes is easier to transport and can also carry more. The baled one also costs more," Mugendi says.
The group planted their first Boma Rhodes in early 2020. Knowledge acquired during training and demonstrations helped them manage its production with ease.
The first harvest was not much, and group members fed on their livestock. However, the second harvest almost doubled.
"We had more than enough, we decided to start value adding and selling to the neighbourhood," Mugendi says.
After the first harvest, some of the seeds fell on the ground and germinated making the second harvest much higher. And the third increased even more.
The group made Sh15,000 from the second and Sh35,000 from third harvest. Apart from having enough for their livestock, the group is also making money from selling the grass either fresh from the farm, or dry, which they bale or chop into small pieces as per their clients wish.
The group sells a bale of hay in kilogrammes, with one going Sh25.
Today, the group has more clients in the neighbourhood and beyond. Income from hay has helped the group purchase a second one-acre parcel of land, already under Boma Rhodes.
The group lauds the grass project, saying its of great benefits, especially because many people in the area keep cows, and now depend on the group for their source of feeds. Persistent drought has created demand for livestock feeds.
It says milk production has gone up since they started growing the grass.
Though they have broken even, the group has had to grapple with some challenges. For instance, when they started growing the grass, pests and diseases in the soil affected production but with help from project facilitators and extension officers, a solution was found.
Also, on few occasions, they have encountered pest and disease attacks. However, they say Boma Rhodes is easy to manage.
In future, the group plans to acquire more land, invest more in Boma Rhodes since they have realised it has a huge market potential. To them, the bigger the farm, the higher the returns.
Mugendi lauds his group members, saying their discipline has led to the success of the project.