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King Grass: An antidote to farmers-herders crisis

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Safiu Kehinde

 

With several states across Nigeria signing the anti-open grazing bill into law, the chance of survival for herdsmen now appears slim. The nomads, who have a long history of migrating from states to states in search for greener pastures, are now restriction-bound owing to the farmer-herdsmen crisis which had seen the destruction of lives and properties in the country.

Despite pleas by the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Lagos State, a few days ago, signed the anti-open grazing bill into law, dealing a huge blow to the herdsmen.

Meanwhile, all hope is not lost for the herders on account of the emergence of an hybrid plant called King Grass which was introduced by Cross River State government.

Governor Ben Ayade had earlier this year teamed up with some Agro experts from Cambodia who introduced the King Grass — a proposed solution to the farmers-herders crisis.

Ayade, at the demonstration site of the King Grass, lamented the impact of climate change on the ecosystem which led to the migration of the herdsmen from their base. He believed that everyone has the right to live and not being deprived of his or her livelihood. Thus, he proposed the idea of creating societal harmony where herdsmen will rear their cattle without interfering with the farmers’ activities. The Governor alongside the Agro team from Cambodia, afterwards, revealed the “special” grass called the King Grass.

King Grass is a fast growing, high yield, and hybrid plant which, according to Ayade, can grow up to two metres within forty-five days. It is a perennial plant that can be harvested several times per year. It tends to grow more faster when cut for silage. However, it is advisable to harvest it earlier when the stalks are still green and not woody.

Scientifically known as Pennisetum Purureum Schum, the King Grass has the ability to grow in a variety of soil conditions and does not compete with food cropping. It is, however, best grown in tropical and subtropical regions with more than 100 days of sunshine per year, and more than 32 inches (800mm) of rain per year. These criteria align with Nigeria’s tropical climate condition. The country, especially the Southeast region, receives more than 120 inches (3000mm) of rain in a year, while the Southwest region receives about 70 inches (1800mm) of rain in a year. Although the Northern region falls short of the stipulated condition for King Grass survival, but it still boasts of 20 inches (500mm) of rain in a year. Thus, the grass can thrive on Nigerian soil and can be ready with its high nutritional value within short period of time for animal feeding.

Speaking of nutritional value, the King Grass is highly nutritious for animal consumption. It has substantial amount of fibre, good energy, and protein. The protein content can further be increased with increased nitrogen fertilizer. With such nutritional benefits, King Grass can replace expensive feeds and therefore reduce feeding costs while maintaining good nutrition. Its ability to grow within a confined land can also reduce herdsmen migration as well as transportation expenses.

Meanwhile, the King Grass shares similarities with Elephant grass which is commonly found in parts of Nigeria. Both plants share same botanical family called Pupureum. Like the King Grass, Elephant grass possess high nutritional value for cattle. It is a multipurpose plant which aside being fed to cattle, can be eaten by humans. The young leaves and shoots of elephant grass are edible and can be cooked to make soups and stews. Although it has not been ascertained whether the King Grass is also good for human consumption, it was said to have a multipurpose function as well — beyond mere consumption by cattle.

Interestingly, King Grass has high potential for ethanol production in tropical countries. It is also a good source of bioenergy. It has an excellent anaerobic digestion that produces biogas which can fuel engine generator to produce electricity, or can be upgraded and injected into natural gas pipeline.

In conclusion, the introduction of the King Grass in Nigeria will no doubt minimize farmers-herders crisis. Also, if well utilized, the country’s energy sector may be up for a profitable bargain from this organic grass.

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