The government of Botswana is this year intending to take a positive move in resuscitating agriculture by subsidising Napier grass which will go a long way in providing feed for dairy farmers.
Responding to Sunday Standard questions, the Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security Dr. Kgosiemang Molapong explained that, “it is a new programme and possibly farmers are not aware of the government’s subsidy initiative.
The Ministry is therefore committed to work hard to raise awareness and support from independent media is appreciated.”
He said some farmers are already doing well in as far as growing the grass is concerned; but most will require technical support and the Ministry through different departments such as the Department of Agricultural Research will continue to provide training and demonstrations to improve farmers’ knowledge on fodder production including Napier grass.
Asked whether the grass grows well everywhere in the country he responded: “So far evidence suggests that Napier grass can grow well in all parts of Botswana. The Department of Agricultural Research has already established plots in Maun, Francistown, Sunnyside, Sebele and one will be established in Kang.”
He said there is high demand of the Napier grass in the country, something that is putting pressure on the government to act. It therefore turns out that currently there is no sufficient supply of the grass seedlings. The Ministry is therefore registering and assessing potential seedlings’ suppliers. He is hopeful that that through private suppliers and Department of Agricultural Research, sufficient propagation material will be available to the farming community.
A farmer, Batshani Chakalisa of CHAMOSA Farms near Mahalapye told this publication in a brief interview that he had registered to be a seedlings supplier.
“The government, through the 50 percent, subsidy purchases each seedling at P2. 50. The farmer pays the other P2.50. The ‘market’ price of each seedling is by standard agreed by stakeholders at P5. 00,” said Chakalisa. He said he is with other farmers from Thamaga area, Tapologo Farm and Oodi. He said they had already formed a group they call Napier Grass Botswana.
Another farmer, Simon Mahosi of the Ecological Fodder Solutions said in an interview that his company was going to come into the Napier production programme, partially as a seedlings supplier. It is going to provide consultancy service to farmers, given that Napier grass is not grown like maize or any such indigenous crops.
The Napier grass, capable of growing up to more than four metres high, is usually ready for harvest within two and half months. He said it is capable of 45 tonnes per hectare per harvest every year.
“Napier is a hybrid plant. It has 45 days re-growth period of five years. You do not have to replant it. The current hybrid is CO4. In the next three to four years CO5 will be available. The grass’ developers are Tamil Nadu National University of India. They consistently bring new hybrid and the new hybrid is always better than the previous one,” said Mahosi.
Given the Acting Permanent Secretary’s answer that most farmers will require technical support Ecological Fodder Solutions seems to have the right answers.
Mahosi said through the consultancy service, his company will empower people with skills. His company already has partnership with a network of technology providers in terms of irrigation, harvesting, and packaging the product. Apparently Napier grass is advantageous in the sense that it can grow during dry seasons, as long as irrigation and fertilisation is applied.
“A hectare of Napier grass can sustain 35 dairy cattle all year round-harvested using the cut and carry method. This is an ideal product for dairy farmers and those who operate feed lots,” said Mahosi. His seedlings will cost P2.00 each.