Napier Grass (Pennisetum purpureum) commonly referred to as elephant grass is popular fodder crop for small scale dairy farmers in the high and medium potential dairy production areas of Kenya under the cut & carry system of production.

It is a fast growing, deeply rooted, perennial grass growing up to 4 metres tall that can spread by underground stems to form thick ground cover. Napier is easy to establish and persistent; drought tolerant; suitable for cutting and very good for silage making. Napier grass is a high yielding fodder crop with good palatability, highly nutritious especially when young, dark green leaves and less than 1 metre tall.

It is also used as a soil stabilizer in soil conservation methods and can be intercropped with various forage legumes. 

Napier is not suitable for direct grazing since stumping results in poor regeneration. It is vulnerable to disease and pest attacks. It takes up a lot of nutrients from the soils and is highly demanding on nutrient recycling/fertilizer application.


French Cameroon

Has thin stems & not very hairy. It is a High yielding variety

Bana grass

Have characteristic thick hairy stems. It is a High yielding variety

Kakamega I, Kakamega II, Kakamega III

Have thin stems and are tolerant to head smut.

Uganda hairless

Have a characteristic thin hairless stems and narrow leaves. It is less yielding, and highly susceptible to frost and diseases.

Clone 13

Resistant to snow mould fungal disease

Sources of Planting Materials

Disease free planting materials should be sourced from KARI – Kakamega, KARI Kitale, KARI Alupe and KARI Muguga. Farmers should contact the nearest Livestock Extension officer for further advice while sourcing for planting material.

Ecological Requirements

It can be grown at altitudes ranging from sea level to 2,000m above sea level. When grown at altitudes above 2000 m, growth and regeneration after cutting is slow and it may die due to frost. It does best in high rainfall areas, over 1500 mm per year.

Napier grass can grow in almost any soils; but does best in deep, fertile, well draining soils.


Plant at the beginning of the main (reliable) rainy season. Either canes or splits can be used for propagation. Canes require less labour and planting material. While splits are labour intensive and requires a lot of planting material.

Planting styles

  • Napier grass should be planted in rows. 
  • Spacing to adopt depends on moisture availability/rainfall. 
  • Recommendation for high rainfall areas is 90 by 60 cm or 100 by 50 cm.
  • Recommendations for the low rainfall areas are 100 by 100 cm or 100 by 120 cm.
  • Planting holes of 15 – 20 cm deep are recommended for farmers using cuttings and splits.
  • Farmers using whole cane are advised to dig furrows of 10 – 15  cm deep. 

 Planting Style – Cuttings

  • Cane cuttings are placed at an angle of 450 inside the planting holes.
  • Care should be taken to ensure that at least 2 nodes are within the soil.
  • The buds of the cuttings should face up and should not be damaged.
  • 11236 cuttings are required for planting per acre

Planting Style – Splits

  • Splits are placed within the planting holes and firmly put in the soil.
  • 14045 splits are required for planting per acre.

Planting Style – Cane 

  • Cane are laid end to end in the furrow and covered with soil.

Weed Control

After planting a new crop of Napier is kept clean of weeds by;

– Carrying out a minimum of two weeding (3 weeks after planting then 3 or 4 after the first weeding) before first harvest.


The first cutting is expected 3 – 4 months after planting (when at one meter high). At first harvesting it is recommended that the cutting be done at a height of 5 cm from the soil/ground. This is to allow for more growth of new shoots. Cutting intervals usually depend on rainfall availability and the level of management. Successive harvests should be done when the crop is 1.5 meters. Napier should be cut 5 cm from the ground. Expected yield is 20,000 to 40,000 kg of fresh Napier per acre. Note the yield depends of the level of management.  


Napier grass is fed under the cut and curry system. Freshly cut Napier grass is left to wilt for a period of 12 hours under shade before chopping is done. Chop the material into pieces about 5 cm long to avoid wastage. Requirements for a dairy cow of average live weight of 400 kg should be given about 60 kgs of fresh chopped Napier grass per day. 

Conservation & Storage

Conserve the surplus whenever there is more Napier grass at the right stage of harvesting. The ideal method of conservation is by silage making. It can also be left as standing hay. Methods of:

  • Silage making
  • Trench silo
  • Pit silo
  • Above ground – Tower
  • Tube silo 

The commonly  used methods by most small scale dairy farmers are the trench silo and tube silo

Tube Silo

  • Make silage using giant (1 m wide) polythene or tubes. 
  • Heavier polythene is desirable since it can be re-used many times though expensive. 
  • Requirements per day for a 400 kg cow is 45 kg.


  • 1 gunny bag full of Napier grass is chopped to length of about 2.5 cm using a chaff cutter or panga.
  • A watering can 
  • 1 kg of molasses
  • 3 kg of water measured in the same way bas molasses
  • A shovel
  • A giant polythene bag or tube tied with sisal twine at one end.


  • Mix 1 kg of molasses with 3 kg of water in a watering can.
  • Spread out the chopped Napier on a polythene sheet and sprinkle with the molasses water mixture. Mix the Napier with the molasses –water well.
  • Put the mixed material in the giant polythene bag.
  • Compress the material being careful not to break the polythene bag.
  • Tie the top of the bag with sisal twine.
  • The silage is ready for use after 3 weeks.

Trench Silo

  • Excavate a trench (Dimensions 3 m by 5.3 m by 1 m for the deep side; enough to accommodate 8 tons of silage).
  • Consumption per cow per day is 45 kgs per day. Therefore 8 tons of ensiled material can feed a 400 kg cow for 170 days.
  • Lay the polythene materials on the side of the trench
  • Cut the fodder material into pieces of 2.5 – 5 cm length.
  • Empty twenty two gunny bags of chopped material into the silo and spread evenly.
  • Mix half to three quarters jerrican of molasses with two to three jerricans of water and evenly sprinkle on the chopped material in the silo.
  • After sprinkling compact adequately with a drum filled with water.
  • Continue the process until the pit is full and doom shaped.
  • Cover the chopped material with a polythene sheet then cover with soil of at least 1 feet (30 cm) thickness to further compress the material. 


The recommended time for establishing Napier Grass is at the onset of long rains in the high potential areas. While for the medium potential productions areas it is recommended that they plant during the seasons when they receive reliable rains. Land earmarked for planting should be well prepared before the planting season. The soils clods should be pulverized and free from weeds. 

Establishment Costs 


  • Rotation cycles (years): 10
  • Annual yield (Kgs): 20000
  • Number of cuts per year:  5 
  • Land ownership:  Own
  • Land Not Virgin
  • Crop not affected with Napier Stunt Disease after first harvest.

Methods of propagation

Napier is established using stem cuttings, root splits or whole cane.

Cane Cuttings

Is a stem consisting of three to four nodes obtained from mature stems. The stems should have grown over two meters high. Farmers should preferably use the middle part of the stem. Care should be taken not to damage the buds during handling.


Splits are uprooted parts of a Napier plant/Stool after the leaves/stems have been cut back to 10 – 15 cm. Care should be taken not to damage the roots. Each split should have some roots and soils. Root splits establish faster. Splits preferably used to extend a field of Napier grass of gapping. Require regular rainfall

Whole Cane

Involves utilization of an entire stem as the planting material. The stem/cane is laid end to end in shallow furrows and covered with soil. Care should be taken to ensure that the stems have active buds (buds that can grow). Has low and un even germination.

 Caution: Adopt a planting method that is appropriate – low costs and low labour intensive.

Agronomic Practices

Land should be well prepared before the planting season. The soils clods should be pulverized and free from weeds at the time of planting. Preferably farm yard manure should be worked into the soils. This results into fertile soils

Fertilizer and Manure use

Planting time

  • 1 bag of 50kgs of NPK (20:20:0) is applied at planting per acre.
  • One spade full of farm yard manure can be applied in the planting holes at planting time. 

Top dressing

  • Apply two 50 kgs bags of NPK 20:20:0 per acre in the middle of the long rains. 
  • Another two 50 kgs bags of NPK 20:20:0 at the onset of short rains.
  • Alternatively apply 30 kg of CAN at the beginning and another 30 kgs in the middle of the long rains. 40 kgs of CAN should be applied in the course of the short rains. 
  • Slurry (mixture of dung & urine) can be applied immediately after harvesting in a furrow along the rows of Napier and covered with soil as weeding is also done.

Tumbukiza Method

This is a farmer found method appropriate for marginal areas with moisture stress.  It can however be used in areas that receive high amounts of rainfall.

Advantages of using Tumbukiza Method:

  • High yielding than other conventional methods
  • Low weeding frequency
  • High moister retention
  • Easier to irrigate
  • Support higher stocking rate
  • Ideal for dry areas.
  • Good for water conservation


  • High initial labour requirements

How it is done

  • Dig a hole 2 ft by 2ft by 2 ft (60 cm by 60 cm by 60 cm)
  • Half fill the hole with 10 spades of top soils mixed with 10 spades of farmyard manure.
  • Plant 4 cuttings/canes or a bunch of root splits in each hole.
  • Spacing from one hole to another is 2 feet (60 cm)

Material requirements

The numbers of cuttings required per acre are 11,236 which can be obtained from 102 m2 of established mature Napier. 2809 bunches of five splits each are required when using root splits. This can be obtained from an area of 514 m2 of established Napier.

Napier grass can be intercropped with various legume crops and shrubs. Intercropping with legumes improves the quality of the fodder and soil fertility.

Examples of legumes that are commonly intercropped with Napier grass are;

  • Desmodium
  • Sesbania
  • Calliandra
  • Gliricidia
  • Mulberry
  • Leucaena


Intercropping with Desmodium

Desmodium is a legume that successfully grows together with Napier grass. To establish a mixed stand of Desmodium and Napier grass;

  • First establish Desmodium in a clean seed bed.
  • The recommended spacing for establishing Desmodium is the recommended spacing of Napier grass. 
  • At planting Desmodium is mixed with an inoculant.
  • 1 kg of Desmodium seed is needed to plant one acre.
  • At planting DAP can be used at a rate of 1 bag per acre.
  • After germination the field should be weeded and Napier grass can be planted in the same rows with Desmodium at 60cm between rows.
  • Cane cuttings are recommended as planting materials.

Intercropping with Fodder Crops

Fodder shrubs provide a valuable feed supplement for dairy cows and dairy goats and wood fuel for household consumption.

Examples of fodder shrubs that are commonly intercropped with Napier grass are;

  • Sesbania
  • Calliandra
  • Gliricidia
  • Mulberry
  • Luceana

Farmers can either establish their own nurseries or use seedlings from recommended suppliers/ registered tree nurseries, KEFRI centers, ICRAF. Fodder shrubs can be planted on the hedge of Napier grass farm or within the rows of an established crop of Napier grass. Along the hedge rows recommended spacing is 5 meters apart, while the recommended spacing for intercropping within the Napier grass is 5 rows of Napier grass between two rows of fodder trees. 

Pests & Diseases

Head Smut

It is caused by Ustilago kamerunensis

  • Infected plants have a characteristic precocious flowering and smutted heads.
  • The infected stems harden and shoot to premature flowering, becoming thin and fibrous rather than normal thick and juicy.
  • Emerging plant stems then become smaller and the total dry matter of the affected crop is drastically reduced After 2-3 cuttings, the entire stool dries leading to a catastrophic decline in biomass.

Management or Control

  • Use of disease resistant varieties (Kak I, Kak II & Kak III)
  • Obtain planting materials from crops free from the disease preferably at KARI centers.
  • Improvement heath of the crop by applying manure and fertilizer.
  • Avoid using manure from livestock fed on smut infected plants Observe routine agronomic measures  

Napier Stunting Disease

A new disease that was first observed in Western Kenya in the mid 1990’s in Kanduyi Division. The disease has rapidly spread to other parts mainly the sugarcane growing areas. Disease characterized by yellowing of leaves, tiny leaves, shortening of internodes, proliferation of tillers, decline of vigour, stunting and death of plant. Spread of the disease is caused by leaf and plant hoppers.

Management of disease spread

  • Use of clean planting materials.
  • Uprooting and burning of affected materials.
  • Utilization of alternative fodder crops and pastures. 

Snow Mould Fungal Disease

 It is fungal disease that causes white mould on attacked leaves and stems of most Napier grass varieties. It is caused by Beniowskia sphaeroidea Clone 13 developed from French Cameroon is resistant to the snow mould fungal diseases. Affected Napier grass do not lose the vigour of the plants and feeding livestock on the diseased leaves has no adverse effect

Management or Control

  • Use of disease resistant varieties (Clone 13)
  • Obtain planting materials from crops free from the disease preferably at KARI centers.
  • Improvement heath of the crop by applying manure and fertilizer.
  • Avoid using manure from livestock fed on smut infected plants.
  • Observe routine agronomic measures

Emerging Issues

  • Need to institute and operationalize the National Feed Policy
  • Expedite research on Napier Stunt disease.
  • Develop fodder crops that can effectively compete Napier grass as alternative fodder crops for small scale dairy farmers. 


Key Stakeholders in Napier grass production include:

  • Kenya Agricultural Research Institute – KARI.
  • Kenya Forest Research Institute  – KEFRI
  • World Agro forestry Center (ICRAF)
  • Small Scale Dairy Farmers
  • Ministry of Livestock Development
  • Ministry of Agriculture
  • International Center of Insects Physiology and Ecology –(ICIPE)
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