Livestock Research for Rural Development 28 (8) 2016 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Promotion of range pasture and fodder production among the pastoral and agro-pastoral communities in Kenyan rangelands: Experiences and lessons learnt

B K Kidake, J K Manyeki, D Kubasu and W N Mnene

Arid and Range Lands Research Institute, Kiboko, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, P O Box 12-90138, Makindu, Kenya


The rearing of livestock is an important activity in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands of Kenya. Different activities have been implemented by different organizations with the aim of improving the productivity of the livestock sector. Key among them are geared towards the improvement of the feed resource base. The involvement of farmers and other actors in these initiatives go a long way in ensuring that successes are realized. However, challenges abound as these initiatives take centre stage during implementation.

We hereby review some of the experiences and lessons learnt during the interaction with farmers and livestock keepers as well as key informants in the Arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) of Kenya while promoting pasture technologies in the recent past.

Keywords: livestock production, pasture improvement, reseeding


Livestock rearing is one of the most predominant economic activity and source of livelihoods among the rural dwelling households in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) of Kenya. The sector employs over 90% of the local population with over half of the country’s livestock found in these regions (RoK, 2010). The sector is however faced with a myriad of challenges key among them changing climatic conditions with the unpredictable weather patterns, rangeland degradation and mismanagement that directly affects feed availability. Most areas are either bare or heavily infested with invasive bush species hence very minimal desirable forage species. Traditional land management practices are collapsing due to changing land use dynamics, climate change and socio-economic factors (Kassahun 2008,). However, livestock keepers are adapting different coping strategies in order to mitigate the changes. In Kenya, the rangelands are highly degraded due to overgrazing and continuous overstocking, leading to inadequate feeds (Mnene 2004).

Various institutions and organizations strive to assist the communities living in the ASALs to improve livestock productivity through different interventions. Several pasture and fodder technologies have been developed and disseminated by different actors and organizations for the arid and semi-arid regions in Kenya. These actors include Government departments, research organizations/institutions, Non-governmental organizations and private sector entities. Some of the technologies include natural pasture improvement, range pasture establishment; pasture seed production, processing and storage; range fodder/pasture utilization, conservation and preservation.

Despite the availability of various knowledge channels, most farmers do not have access to information on good agricultural practices (GAP) to enhance pasture and fodder production. There was inadequate knowledge on suitable species, pasture establishment, management and even dissemination of pasture and fodder technologies in the ASALs (Mnene 2006 and Kibet et al 2006). Through the use of participatory approaches, various organizations have been involved in these ventures and have experienced successes as well as challenges in the course of their work. These has and will continue shaping the scope of operation as they continue interacting with farmers and livestock keepers in the ASAL regions of Kenya.

The objective of this paper is to review the experiences and lessons learnt from the drylands of Kenya with regard to pasture and fodder technologies promotion for improved livestock productivity. The generated information will give a feedback to stakeholders working in the ASALs in order for them to streamline their activities for improvement of the livestock feed sub sector.

Materials and Methods

Study Sites

The main target sites of this work were the selected Arid and Semi-Arid (ASAL) Counties of Kenya namely Makueni, Kajiado, Moyale, Mandera, Taita Taveta, Narok, Garissa and Tana River. These are counties based in the regions where the authors and their collaborators have undertaken their work in the recent past. These areas receive less than 800 mm of rainfall and fall between agro ecological zones IV to VII (Sombriek et al 1982). The vegetation in these counties is diverse depending on soil types and rainfall but mainly exhibits semi-arid characteristics. Generally, crop production is limited especially for the areas with arid climate which support extensive livestock production with cattle, camels, goats and sheep the main species kept.


Various approaches and methodologies were used to collect information presented herein. These include participatory farmer trainings and on-farm demonstrations, participant observation and at least one group discussion using a questionnaire technique in each cluster site. This was then triangulated by at least 3 key informant interviews in each of the sites. The key informants included livestock extension officers and private service providers in some of the counties. Grey literature was also used to obtain some of the data and information. Generally, farmers were self-organized in groups selected based on the locality and shared common interests and objectives. Cluster sites within the counties acted as the entry points of pasture and fodder technologies by the research and extension agents. As for demonstration sites, the objective was to use the mother-baby approach so that farmers are given the opportunity to be part and part of technology flow.

Results and discussion

Knowledge needs by farmers

From discussions with key informants, farmer groups and through general observations, there were several general knowledge needs by farmers. These included issues relating to:

i. Range degradation and rehabilitation

ii. Types of suitable pastures, fodders and their potentials

iii. Pasture and fodder establishment, reseeding and natural pasture improvement

iv. Land preparation, sowing techniques and management of sown pastures and fodders

v. Harvesting of pasture seeds and post-harvest handling

vi. Storage, preservation, conservation and utilization

vii. Marketing and economic aspects of pasture and fodder technologies

To address these needs, the research teams used trainings, demonstrations and interaction with farmers and livestock keepers in regard to pastures and fodder production. Farmer needs however vary depending on the objectives of projects being implemented. In most cases, livestock being the major economy driver in these areas, farmer needs are likely to focus specifically on any initiatives targeting livestock production. Pasture and fodder improvement projects ranked one of the main issues most welcome by different farmer groups and individuals. This study reviewed that a package incorporating the practical aspects should accompany the trainings and demonstrations for it to be appreciated, well understood and put into practice by farmers.

Constraints and perceptions faced by farmers and livestock keepers

Thornton (2010) reported poor nutrition of livestock in Africa a major challenge to productivity despite the research carried out in pastures, utilization of crop residues and even supplementation. Actors along the pasture and fodder value chains in Kenya perceive feed availability as one of the major issues facing livestock productivity in the ASALs of Kenya. This is heightened during the dry season with drought reported to be the main cause of feed availability (Gikaba 2014). The increasing frequency of drought in the ASALs is a major source of concern. This is due to the direct effect on natural pastures as well as fodders which are in the short or long term depleted. In the rangelands most of the traditionally adapted species have disappeared and been replaced by annuals, shrubs, bush, bare patches and unpalatable species. Supplementation is minimal and only resource endowed individuals are likely to practice it. Food crops farming seems to remain a more acceptable and widely practiced venture than pasture establishment in most of the agro-pastoral regions in the country. This compromises the capacity of farmers to produce enough feed for their livestock Likewise, in the pastoral regions fodder and pasture cultivation is very minimal with a high dependence on naturally growing pastures for animal feed with little or no effort of improvement. There is need to empower the communities in these areas in order to deal with the changing climatic and weather conditions in particular drought for increased livestock productivity.

Knowledge sharing, participatory learning and technology dissemination

There are several approaches taken to diffuse pasture technologies in the ASALs. The following are the common ones which have been utilized to share information with most of them being participatory. These include: - training of trainers, farmer field days, farmer field schools, exposure visits/fora, use of lead farmer demonstrations and demonstration sites.

The community based seeds system approach for Common Interest Groups (CIGs) for range pasture seed technologies described in detail in Kimitei, 2012, presents an example of knowledge sharing for the southern rangelands of Kenya. Farmer groups with composition of 20-50 members with a common goal were engaged in range pasture seed multiplication at community level. Over 3000 famers being members of CIGs have been trained in Makueni, Garissa, Narok and Kajiado Counties. Many of the trained individuals have established grass seed multiplication and fodder production farms with a total acreage of over 70.5 hectares as of 2012 (Kimitei 2012) and continues to rise as the demand for range pasture seed increase. This approach has been very successful and effective in bridging the supply gapand there is potential for further exploitation.

Table 1. Participation in TOT for pasture and fodder technologies in selected ASAL counties by KALRO Kiboko as of 2015


Number Trained















Tana River




















These are figures for Trainings which have been undertaken by facilitators from the Community based pasture seed system at KALRO Kiboko from 2010-2015

The role and participation of women as trainers in the selected counties has been minimal which can be attributed to the labour intensiveness of livestock production as a livelihood in the ASALs. The trainers were expected to take a lead and help in upscaling of technologies to other group members and the society. Most women in these regions do not control resources such as land, livestock and finances leave alone group headship In addition, women in the ASALS are likely not to attend trainings and demonstrations due to their societal social responsibilities. It therefore limits their participation and reflects the subordinate role they play in society especially in the ASALs (RoK 2015). Gender inclusivity while implementing projects is an issue that needs to be addressed since the impacts of projects are cross cutting across all gender. Refresher courses, monitoring and evaluation feed-back mechanisms need to be put in place to facilitate the trainers for posterity and sustainability purposes.

Pasture technology exposure fora such as field visits, field days, and demonstrations provide a chance for farmers to replicate the scenarios they learn, albeit adapted to their localities in order to improve their livelihoods. Previously researchers identified famers in whose farms demonstration set-ups were placed and learning took place. This approach has continued to prove as an effective method of learning in the drylands of Kenya (Muok 2001). However, in the ASALs most of these lead farmers sometimes end up being the only ones practicing the fodder and pasture technologies due to the ‘ early adopters and early majority’ effect. One of the most successful means that have proven excellent is the use of demonstration set ups in a participatory manner together with the farmers in the ASALs.

Generally, combinations of the different approaches would form effective dissemination methodologies of research results on of pasture and fodder improvement technologies. The choice and method of out-scaling and upscaling technologies is of prime importance for them to succeed.

Private-public sector partnerships have also been an important effective avenue of collaboration for dissemination of pasture and fodder technologies. Exploiting the different strengths of each of these institution such as expertise, mobilization and resource endowments ensures that more farmers are incorporated and benefit from pasture activities. In addition Non-Governmental Organizations have also been involved with farmers for a while in the ASALS of Kenya and these also play crucial roles in technology dissemination. NGOs are able to cover wider coverage and effectively be used as agents of technology dissemination due to their resource endowment and wider coverage and interaction with research institutions, (Wambugu 2011). However, most of their programs are site-based and will terminate their projects within specified time periods and in so doing sometimes disrupt diffusion of technology or knowledge leading to collapse (Muok 2001). This applies to situations where sustainability issues have not been addressed. Integration of sustainability processes in pasture and fodder programs in the ASALs ensures continuity in the long run and improved productivity. Organizations need to learn from previous experiences and design long lasting pasture and fodder programs.

Sources of pasture seeds and planting material

Efforts by famers in the ASALs of Kenya to improve their pastures and venture into pasture seed production has faced various challenges key among them being the unavailability of quality seed. Range pasture seeds unlike other high potential grasses such as Chloris gayana is not available in the formal marketing channels in Kenya (Manyeki 2015). Farmers and livestock keepers in the rangelands of Kenya therefore rely on the Government through the respective State Departments, NGOs, fellow farmers, independent seed sellers and research institutions for provision of germplasm. The formal and informal seed planting material sources and chain is as depicted in the framework below (Figure1). KALRO through various avenues has managed to train farmers on quality forage seed production. In addition, through the Kenya Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (KASAL) and Arid and Semi-Arid Lands –Agricultural Productivity Research (ASAL-APRP) programs, the Organization has been involved in pasture seed multiplication for the different rangeland grasses. These include Enteropogon macrostachyus (bush rye), Eragrostis superba (Maasai love grass), Chloris roxburghiana (horsetail grass) and Cenchrus ciliaris (African foxtail grass) which are the main key species for reseeding and pasture improvement in Kenyan rangelands.

Figure 1. Formal and informal sources of seeds and planting material for forages in the ASALs of Kenya. (Adapted from Mwendia et al 2016.)

Private entities such as Rehabilitation of Arid Environments (RAE Trust) as well as the Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA), a state parastatal based in the Rift Valley of are also important seed sources for planting and rehabilitating the ASALs.

The other source of seed has been the opportunistic harvest by farmers of seeds on road sides, thickets and bushes in most parts of the rangelands which is in turn planted at prepared sites in farmer fields thus alleviating the problem of seed scarcity. The off-shoot benefits from the sale of pasture and fodder seeds for farmers in this contribute to the improvement of livelihoods. Farmer groups have been able to re-invest the returns of selling seeds into other avenues such as buying high quality animals for members.

This review revealed that the community based pasture and seed production approaches by CBOs are best bet options for producing seeds for pasture and fodder improvement. An approach of setting up seed multiplication centres supported by the Government, NGOs or contracting farmers to undertake seed production is necessary and can go a long way of alleviating seed and feed scarcity.

Formalization of range pasture seed production and marketing through laid down legal and institutional procedures will therefore provide a sustainable approach of availing seeds to consumers for planting. Further investments into seed production value chain by private service providers can also assist to provide seeds for farmers and livestock keepers. However the economics of venturing into this need to be investigated to justify investment as this sector is not currently well developed in the ASALs.

Choice of suitable pasture and fodder species

The species of choice for a majority of livestock keepers and farmers in most of the regions in the ASALs of Kenya is greatly influenced by the forage value for livestock (Mganga 2013). In addition to native pastures mentioned earlier, the other grasses includeBracharia sp, Sorghum drummondii, colombus grass, Panicum maximum, Digitaria macroblephara, Themeda triandra and Chloris gayana extozi. Cenchrus ciliaris has been observed to be the most popular species among the native species being promoted particularly by NGOs in the drylands. The preference of this species is attributed to its suitability in ASAL areas and potential benefits such as high nutritional value, tolerance to drought and grazing and soil conservation (Marshall et al 2012). Participatory evaluation by farmers however showed that the species to be less preferred by livestock as it matures especially if other palatable species are available. Maasai pastoralists cite D. macroblephara species as one that increases milk production when grazed by lactating animals, a claim that is yet to be validated. Research needs to focus on the contribution of the various species to improvement of different livestock productivity aspects, adaptability, persistence and forage yield. This will form a basis of recommendation to farmers on the different species combinations and feed formulation strategies.

Pasture/fodder management, conservation and utilization

The most common feed resource for the ASALs of Kenya are browse and natural pastures comprising of grasses and locally available legumes including trees and shrubs which provide nutrition for livestock (Ndathi et al 2013; Ndathi 2012; Mnene 2006). Seasonal fluctuations determine the availability of these feed resources with local climatic conditions and soil conditions being the main of determinants of productivity (Ogle 1990). A lot of feed is available during the wet season in most parts with scarcity experienced during the dry season.

For planted forage species, some challenges may exist in maintaining established pastures in the semi-arid tropics unless they are of native species, adequately fertilized and well grazed (Ogle 1990). In the drylands of Kenya, sown pastures are left to grow with weeding done through the removal of unwanted small woody species, herbs and shrubs manually. Rarely is the use of fertilizers or manure application practiced despite the availability of organic manure. Most of the famers interviewed cited the possible proliferation of weeds and labour involved as deterrents to the application of manure. There’s a need for further research into suitable less labour-involving alternatives of weed control to encourage the use of manure for better productivity in ASALs.

The interest in grass seeds leads farmers to leave planted pastures to mature in the fields before harvesting and subsequent conservation. The main strategies of preservation are in form of standing hay or cutting and then balling. Ndathi 2013, observed that most farmers don’t conserve the harvested feeds well mainly due to inadequate skills and lack of conservation structures. For most of the rangelands, the main methods remains leaving them standing in the fields, harvesting and placing them in tree branches, on wooden racks or in small home granaries, (Ndathi 2012). These practices however result in forage with very little crude protein as demonstrated by Koech 2016, Ndathi 2012 and Kirwa 2015.

The promotion of a feed utilization strategy where famers would be taught the optimal practice of feed conservation or preservation and even utilization at optimal level of nutritive value would be the best bet of ensuring quality feed for livestock. Feed formulations and value addition such as inclusion of legumes would also go a long way to improve the feed quality especially for rangeland grass species.

Most County governments and NGOs have invested in communal feed stores (hay barns) and hay harvesting equipment for livestock feed in the ASAL counties. However, the stores remain empty and the machines lay idle for most of the year as feeds are not available for harvesting, processing and storage. There is no clear strategy in place on the source of fodder for storage in most of the regions. Farmers and livestock keepers need first to be enlightened on the importance of fodder production through provision of planting materials and technical know-how in order to produce adequate fodder. For the whole system to succeed, local tailor-made hay storage facilities, small scale mechanized harvesting technologies at farmer level can be beneficial than the large communal ones.

Seed yields from established natural pastures

Rangeland pasture seed yields vary depending on environmental conditions and management (Mganga 2010). Studies on the performance of sown pastures in terms of seed yield under natural conditions are currently few in the ASALs of Kenya. Koech 2014, evaluated the performance of the several species under irrigation and natural rainfall conditions in Tana River County. Yields of up to 150.7kg/ha were recorded for Sudan grass, a species mostly cultivated under irrigated conditions or areas with higher rainfall amounts or areas where water is not limiting. The promoted range native grass species ( E. superba, C. roxburghiana, E. macrostachyus and C. ciliaris) yielded 39.8, 54.2, 21.8 and 105.3 kg/ha respectively. Chloris gayana another important species particularly grown in mid to higher potential regions produced 123.7 kg/ha. Irrigated conditions provided an enhanced production, although this is not a common practice in ASALs due to water scarcity. However yields of up to 300kg/ha have been realised under irrigation for Eragrostis superba at the Arid and Rangelands Research Institute. The focus of research should be on improving the growing environment in order to optimize seed production through improving soil conditions, water harvesting and fertilizer use.

Pasture Seed quality

Trainings on seed quality have helped in producing high quality seeds for range grasses in the ASALs. Production of good quality pasture seeds depend on good pasture establishment management, harvesting and storage. It was observed and noted that storage of most of the seeds was not as per the recommended conditions, a factor which is likely to affect their quality negatively. Other factors that determine the quality include storage container type and harvesting methods (Mnene 2006). Many samples brought by famers mainly from Makueni and Kajiado Counties for testing between the years 2008 and 2014 were between 35-90% viable for the different species as indicated in Table 2. There is a gap in knowledge about pasture seed handling despite the efforts train farmers and other parties in pasture seed production. There’s a need for follow ups and technical backstopping such as capacity building and where necessary offer incentives for lead famers and trainers, learning institutions so that the process of producing quality seeds is enhanced and sustained.

Table 2. Viability tests for range grass farmer seed and seeds harvested on-station carried out at KALRO Kiboko Laboratory


% Germination





Cenchrus ciliaris





Chloris roxburghiana





Enteropogon macrostachyus





Eragrostis superba





Other than E. macrostachyus species the quality of pasture seeds tested remains low and there is need for further research on improvement of quality. Farmers should be encouraged to bulk their own seed as it has shown to be as better quality just like the seeds produced on station if not better (Ogillo, 2010) The eventual success of pasture establishment, reseeding and forage production initiatives will wholly depend on the seed quality.

Fodder and seed marketing

The main marketing agents of fodder and basic pasture seeds suitable for the ASALs in Kenya have been identified as individual farmers, independent grass seed traders, Government departments (parastatals such as Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA) and Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), (Lugusa 2016). Non-governmental organizations also form important actors of the fodder and pasture value chain in the ASALs. Most of the pasture seeds is sold to Government departments and NGOs for distribution to farmers for pasture establishment or reseeding degraded areas. The prices of seeds vary depending on the species but ranges between Ksh. 175- Ksh.1000 ($1.75-$10) depending on the species (Lugusa 2016; Manyeki 2015).

It is ironical that lack of market and marketing strategies for pasture seeds was cited as an impediment to range pasture seed production venture by some farmers and backstopping extension staff. At one instance in 2011, a farmer group in Moyale had over 500 kg of Cenchrus ciliaris seed while another in Wajir County had over 200 kg. Another group in Amboseli, Kajiado County had over 150kg of Eragrostis superba as of 2014. Range pasture seed demand is always high during the period just before the rain seasons. Those sellers unable to dispose the seeds during this period eventually have to remain with the seeds for longer periods – a factor which compromises the quality. This disconnect therefore shows the need to accelerate the formalization of range forage seed supply chains in the rangelands.

In several parts of the ASALs, several large scale farmers have ventured into large scale fodder production particularly for income generation. One such farm located at Sultan Hamud harvested 3000 bales for which each bale was sold at Ksh. 250 ($2.5) during the 2015/2016 season mainly to peri-urban livestock keepers (Personal communication). Marketing of fodder is not a problem especially during the long dry season period when feed availability is a challenge.

Generally fodder and fodder seed production can be profitable ventures despite the changing climatic conditions which hardly favour sustainable crop production. However, there should be organization of farmers into marketing groups and cooperatives so that the bargaining power, ability to sell their pasture products and sharing of revenues is effectively handled. In addition, bylaws and group constitutions can guide the efficient running and decision making of these farmer groups.

Uptake and adoption of pasture and fodder improvement technologies

Manyeki 2013, reported that the adoption and uptake of range pasture technologies in the southern rangelands is highly dependent on age and education level of household head, land ownerships and affiliation to farmers groups. Other factors affecting fodder and pasture adoption technologies in Kenya include farmer participation in on-farm trials, farming experience (Wanyama et al 2003) and land ownership (Mureithi et al 1998). This has been demonstrated in the follow ups after the trainings and demonstrations, where mostly the actively participating household heads who mostly own land and who attend, are the ones seeking seed material for planting.

A follow up investigation by Manyeki (2012) following the participatory farmer engagement, carried out to estimate the adoption status in pasture improvement technologies in two sub-counties of Mashuru (Kajiado County) and Makindu (Makueni County) found the results in Table 3.

Table 3. Adoption rate of Natural pasture improvement technologies in the study two sites


Farmers adopted

Farmers not adopted

Makindu (N=61)



Mashuru (N=38)



More awareness needs to be done by the different actors to hasten the process and progress of adoption of technologies especially with the prevailing social, ecological and economic conditions since uptake is still not to the desired levels.



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Received 19 May 2016; Accepted 11 July 2016; Published 1 August 2016

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