In 2006, His Excellency the President of the Republic of Rwanda, Paul KAGAME, initiated GIRINKA Program aiming at reducing poverty through dairy cattle farming; improving livelihoods through increased milk consumption and income generation.
Across many parts of Africa, effects of climate change are forcing farmers to intensify and improve their farming systems. Inadequate supply of forage and poor forage qualities are two major impediments of livestock production across the continent.
Since 2018, The Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board with a support of InnovAfrica Project introduced Brachiaria grass farming to alleviate feed shortages, improve soil fertility, increase milk and meat production, and as a result improve livelihoods.
Implementation of the project started in Nyamagabe and Kirehe district as districts that has high acid soil (Nyamagabe district) and drought (Kirehe District). RAB used farmer participatory approach involving male and female farmers in selecting improved Brachiaria grass cultivars.
With proper management of Brachiaria grasses, farmers are able to get adequate feed from small pieces of land, often mere strips cultivated along terraces.
Mwerekande Simon, a resident of Nasho Sector in Kirehe District, owns a Brachiaria grass farm and he cultivates Barchiaria along his farm terraces. Before cultivating Brachiaria, he used to rely on Napier forage and other local forage. He says that he likes Brachiaria grass because his cattle like it.
“I started cultivating Brachiaira forage in 2019, there is a big difference between Brachiaria forage and other local grasses that I used to feed my cattle. This forage has a huge yield, they are drought and disease resistant; I like this forage because my cows like it.” said Simon.
Despite of being one of districts that have high acidic soil, the lush Brachiaria fields stood out green in Nyamagabe District.
Muhutu Francois is a smallholder farmer in Nyamagabe District, Cyanika Sector; he cultivates Barchiaria grass that he feeds his cows. Before joining the programme, Muhutu says he used to face feed shortage but now he has a reliable supply of quality forage.
“Brachairia grass is a very good grass, first it has a huge yield and they resist against diseases and soil acid. Second, a cow that eats Brachiaria increases in milk production.” He stressed.
He added that Brachiaria forage help him to increase agricultural production as he gives Brachiaira grass to his neighbors and exchanges it with manure.
Brachiaria grasses are extensively grown as livestock forage in South America and East Asia. Besides their use as livestock feed, Brachiaria are known to contribute significantly to carbon sequestration, ecological restoration and soil erosion control, and they play important role in reducing greenhouse gases and nutrient losses from soils.