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KALRO boosts dual-purpose Teff grass production to help arid farmers combat drought

teff grass

By George Munene

Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) is working to upscale teff production in Kenya—a drought tolerant dual-purpose crop that can be used for both human and livestock consumption.

Teff is native to Ethiopia and has mainly been used as a grain crop in the making of Injera, a sour fermented flatbread, but has recently received increased interest in use as a forage crop.

KALRO has worked to develop ten new teff varieties from cultivars that are native to Marsabit as well as running Training of Trainers (ToTs) programs for the teff value chain in the county.

Teff hay protein content ranges from 12-17% and 55-64 total digestible nutrients (TDN) making it highly palatable to livestock. Teff hay has the potential to replace costlier alfalfa and corn silage in the diets of lactating dairy cows. It also serves as an excellent second/ rotation crop.

In research done by Kansas State University the grass proves a great safety net for dairy producers during times of limited water availability or drought. “In terms of intake, milk yield and milk fat percentage, there was no significant difference seen in high-producing dairy cows fed on a control diet and two alternative formulations of the teff diet,” said Benjamin Saylor a graduate research assistant at K-State. “The only significant difference we saw was the two teff diets resulted in milk that had significantly higher protein concentrations.”

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The grass is considered a low input crop capable of being reared free of insecticides or fungicides. It is relatively free of most pests that affect other grain crops

“Teff is a super food because of its high nutritive value and rich in iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc. It is also a reliable low risk crop especially at times when other crops such as maize and sorghum fail due to adverse weather. It also has a long shelf life even under traditional storage systems and has minimal post-harvest loses, since the grains suffers less from storage pests such as weevils,” explained Dr. Felister Makini, Deputy Director General, Crops at KALRO.

The crop matures in 45-60 days for human consumption. In use as animal fodder, the grass should be cut before the seed head appears for maximum forage quality. The first cut is made in approximately 40-50 with subsequent cuts made after 30 days—this however varies with location and husbandry. Rotary cuts are made leaving a 3–4-inch stubble above ground which stores food reserves and fuels regrowth.

Teff grass can be used to produce high quality hay over a short growth period. It can be cut multiples times, average yields in Kenya stand at one ton/ha compared to the worlds average of 3 tons/ha and a potential of 6 tons/ha depending on the growing period. Yields are higher in warmer months than colder ones.

Due to its minute seeds, the planting rate for Teff is 4-6 kilograms per acre.

Its seed are minute thus should not be planted at a depth of more than 1/8 inches to avoid poor emergence. Due to its small seeds, if seedlings are planted on a seedbed the bed should be firm and planting depth should not exceed ¼ inches

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Teff seedlings are slow to establish with plants growing slowly over the first few weeks followed by a period of vigorous growth once the plant is 10-12.7 cm tall and root system is established. Weed eradication during early establishment is recommended to avoid weeds chocking it out. Under warm weather with adequate soil moisture germination occurs in under a week.

Excessive fertilisation should be avoided as it causes lodging. This can be combated by growing dwarf teff varieties.

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