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The prospect of utilizing urea treated maize stover by smallholders in Kenya

Abdullah N Said and M M Wanyoike
Department of Animal Production, University of Nairobi, P.O. Box 29053, Nairobi, Kenya



In the last two decades, a large part of the small holder sector in Kenya has been transformed from a traditional subsistence oriented sector into a more commercialized system. In 1981, the small holder sector produced 75% of the total milk output, 65% of the total beef production, and a substantial amount of eggs and chicken. However, the major constraint in ruminant livestock production is the quantity and quality of available feed. The average land per caput, as per 1982 estimates, by the small holders in two of the highly populated districts, Kakamega and Kiambu, is 0.26 and 0.25 ha respectively within these small hectarages there is a severe competition on the available land for food and feed crops.

Amongst the productive areas of research in alleviating the above problem is the enchanced utilization of arable farm by-products such as maize stover, millet and sorghum stovers, and other home offals. In recent years studies have been undertaken to improve the nutritive value of stover and straws. Of probable practical significance for the small holders is the use of urea solution for treating maize stover, the most abundant by-product on their holding. Some work on urea treatment is reviewed in this paper. Urea treatment improved both intake, digestibility and liveweight gain by cattle and sheep.

Other alternatives to treatments are chopping the stovers and supplementing them with maize bran and/or molasses. The use of forages as dual purpose legumes either in pure stands or as inter-crop fodder will increase both the utilization and availability of feeds and improve soil nitrogen, albeit at probable variable reduced yields of the main food crops. However, other studies have reported improved main crop yields.

The Kenyan Smallholder

Smallholders have emerged as an important and a distinct sector in the overall agriculture production in Kenya. Apart from the traditional smallholdings, of pre-independence and now, the attainment of independence in 1963 saw accelerated efforts by the Kenya Government to resettle the "landless" on former "Scheduled" areas which were European farmed. On the eve of independence in 1961 a "Million Acre Settlement Scheme" was started for purchasing 1.2 million acres of largely mixed farming land. Post independence, many other settlement schemes were undertaken in collaboration with the former colonial administration (Said 1985). The change in land ownerships also continued through private individuals and land owners cooperatives that would normally subdivide the bought land into small units to settle many families.

Their Agricultural Activities


It is estimated that the total numbers of smallholders in six of the eight provinces in Kenya is 2.437 million (Table 1). Average agriculture land per household and per caput in the six provinces is also given in Table 1. Table 2 gives agriculture land per household and per caput in four divisions in Kiambu and Kakamega; two of the highly populated and intensively farmed districts in Kenya. It is estimated that about 75 percent of the land per holding is under arable cropping and at the most only 25 per cent is available for livestock and livestock feeds.

The major agricultural activity on almost all the smallholders is arable cropping with maize forming the major crop. Maize stover is therefore the most abundant arable by-product on all the smallholdings. Except for plantation crops such as tea, coffee and sugar cane, arable farming is mainly for subsistence. In some areas excess food crops are sold to generate cash for the family. In Western and Nyanza Provinces, a substantial number of smallholders grow sugar cane as a major cash crop and sell it as contracted outgrowers to the sugar cane estates. In Kisii tea and coffee are the major cash crops. In Kericho and Nandi Hills tea is also the major cash crop while in Kiambu and Meru tea, coffee and potatoes are the major sources of income; variable with the ecozones within the divisions. Smallholders on irrigation schemes grow cotton, rice, and other horticultural crops for cash. Converted into value of marketed production smallholders generated between 54.8 and 51.2 percentage share of the total marketed production in Kenya between the years 1978 and 1983 (Statistical Abstract 1984).

Animal Production

Dairying is the major animal production enterprise. In 1985 the total dairy cattle population in Kenya was estimated at 2.278 million; 80 percent of which were found on smallholdings (Bartilol 1986). Out of the estimated national marketable milk production of 595 million litres, the small-scale holders produce 476 million litres or 80% of the national figure. Only 119 million litres are produced by the large-scale farmers. In 1986 the total number of dairy cattle in Kakamega District was estimated as 48,558; 11.9% of the total cattle population of 405,697 for the whole District (Said 1986b). In Kiambu District, another heavily populated smallholder farming area, there are 89,437 dairy cattle which form 78% of the total cattle population of 114,586 for the District. The remaining 25,149 head are the indigenous Zebu cattle (Said 1986b).

In Western Kenya and in parts of Eastern Province smallholders use a substantial amount of draught power either on their own holdings or for hiring to the other holders who may not have any.

Other minor ruminant livestock enterprises of the smallholders are sheep and goats, used for ceremonial purposes and sometimes to provide extra cash income. In 1976 it was estimated that out of the total 8.3 million sheep and goats in Kenya, 4.4 million or 53% were reared on small farms (FAO 1976). Mburu (1986) gives the total numbers of sheep and goats in Kenya in 1984 as 13.27 million. Assuming that 50% of these are reared by the smallholders there would have been 6.64 million small ruminants on small farms.

Over the last four years the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development (MALD), in collaboration with Winrock International, have been implementing a project, Small Ruminants-Collaboration Research Support Project (SR-CRSP) to introduce dairy goats/dual purpose to smallholders in Western Kenya and in Nyanza Provinces.

Feed Constraints

As will be clear from tables 1 and 2 the major constraint to ruminant livestock production, apart from available capital for bought in feed and other logistics, is the severe competition on the available land for food crops and fodder for livestock. There is also competition on the available farm manure and compost between food crops and fodder crops for zero grazed dairy production. It is imperative that with the passing of time this situation will be worsened in that the smallholdings will be broken down further due to increasing population growth and the traditional systems of land tenure/inheritance. In the cropped semi-arid dryland areas in Machakos, Kitui and Kibwezi in Eastern Province, increased population pressure will mean even scarcer fodder for the livestock in those areas (Thairu and Tessema 1985).

In almost all the smallholder areas, from the high potential areas of Western and Central Provinces and parts of Rift Valley Province, to the medium and semi-arid areas of the Rift Valley, Eastern and Coast Provinces, maize is the main food crop. It is logical therefore to nationally look at how best the maize stover, the major bulky by-product, easily and cheaply available to the farmers, can be utilized to feed the ruminant livestock especially during the dry season when there are no green fodders either from within the small land holdings or from the road side no man's patches. Both the Department of Animal Production, University of Nairobi and the MALD/FAO Dryland Farming Research and Development Project at Katumani, Eastern Province, are looking at maize stover and other aspects of feed resources for the smallholders. Amongst the other research stations actively involved on other feed resources for the smallholders are the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Muguga and Embu Agricultural Research Station and (SR-CRSP) at Maseno, Nyanza Province.

Table 1. Numbers of smallholders and available agricultural land per caput in 6 of the 8 Provinces in Kenya (Extracted from Jaetzold and Schmidt 1982 and 1983)











































Table 2. Smallholder Agricultural land, households and hectarage per caput in Kiambu and Kakamega Provinces of Kenya. (Recalculated from Jaetzold and Schmidt, 1982 and extracted from Said, 1986b).


TOTAL AREA (100 ha)

AGRIC. LAND (100 ha)




















































































+ Jaetzold and Schmidt, 1982. Farm Management Handbook of Kenya Vol. II Part B. Central Kenya. MALD, Kenya.

Jaetzold and Schmidt, 1983. Farm Management Handbook of Kenya Vol. II Part A. West Kenya. MALD, Kenya.

Said (1986a,b). Animal Production in Kiambu and Kakamega Districts - Status, Constraints & Packages for improvement. (Study commissioned by MALD and SIDA).

Utilization of Maize Stover

Production levels

Accurate figures for the maize grain and stover generated by the smallholders are not available as most of the grain crop is used for domestic use or sold at the local open air markets. Fairly exact statistics are easier to get for the cash crops that are organized and handled by statutory boards. Said (1982) estimated that in 1978 the total amount of maize stover in Kenya, generated by both the smallholders and by the large-scale farmers, was 5 million metric tonnes. He used a residue grain ratio of 2:1. Kayongo-Male (1984) in a study on techniques for inventory-taking on crop wastes established a maize stover grain ratio of 2.03:1.

Fairly accurate hectarage and maize grain yields were estimated by aerial photography and by air borne digital photometers in only 8 maize growing districts in Kenya (KREMU 1985). Within the 8 districts, covering a total of 36,160 km², of Bungoma, Kakamega, Nandi, Nakuru, Uasin Gishu, West Pokot, Elegeyo, Marakwet and Trans Nzoia grain yield was estimated as 703,279 metric tonnes. Using a ratio of residue to grain 2:1 the amount of stover generated would be about 1,407 million metric tonnes. Most of the land in these 8 districts is occupied by smallholders. Jaetzold and Schmidt (1982 and 1983) estimated that percentages of smallholder land under maize is variable within the districts and within the agricultural ecozones. It ranges from 50 percent downwards. Other food crops, in some areas, such as cash crops take the rest of the land. A small percentage of the holding, in some areas, is under pasture or fodders. Yields of maize grain are also variable depending on the ecozones and management factors. It is therefore difficult under these conditions, to estimate accurately the amount of stover that would be generated. However, it is not incorrect to state that maize stover may be the major if not the only roughage available to the smallholders during the dry season.

Limitations of maize stover

Smallholders use maize stover for cooking to save on expenses for fire wood and for charcoal. Some stover is left on the fields or put on terraces to conserve soil. However, a substantial amount of the stover in the high potential smallholder areas is used as an important feed resource both for cattle, sheep and goats. In Western Kenya and in parts of Eastern Province maize stover may be the only roughage available to the oxen used for draught power. In both cases, where it is used as a feed, it is fed as whole stalk and leaves without chopping. Wastage is therefore very high and intake level low.

Like many other high lignin arable farm by-products maize stover has low digestibility. The high lignin inhibits microbial digestion of cellulose and hemicellulose. The low content of nitrogen and defficiency of readily available carbohydrates also limit microbial activity in the rumen.

Musimba (1980) and Tubei (1981) reported protein level of 2.31 percent and 6.29 percent respectively of maize stover. Said (1979) gave a protein content of maize stover at 2.76 percent. Thairu and Tessema (1985) found that maize stover of early maturing variety had a crude protein content of 2.59 percent; NDF, ADF and ADL levels were 69.55, 60.34 and 9.92 percent respectively. Dzowela (1985) reported a protein level of maize stover in Malawi at 5.43 percent and a ME value of 1.09 Mcal/kg DM; marginally below the ME of 2.00 Mcal/kg DM; a threshold value to meet maintenance requirements by beef cattle (NRC 1976). Kevelenge et al. (1983a,b,c) reported that green maize stalk has low levels of calcium and phosphorus. The crude protein level in the green maize stalk ranged from 8.5 to 8.8 percent DM.

Maize stover research in Kenya

The earliest documented work on maize stover in Kenya was by Mulder and Waweru (1973) who looked into the use of maize stover as a supplement on rations used for intensive beef production on smallholder. Musimba (1980) reported that NaOH and Magadi * treated maize stover were higher in-vitro organic matter digestibilities at 70.6 and 80.3 percent respectively in comparison to 48.8 percent in the untreated material. Said (1981) reported that NH3 treated maize stover increased in-vivo organic matter digestibility from 56.1 percent for untreated stover to 60.9 percent, intake of organic matter increased from 22.4 g/kgW0.75 to 27.0 g/kgW0.75 per day and average liveweight gain by sheep in the 13 weeks experimental period was 61.8 g for the untreated stover and 88.7 g for the NH3 treated stover.

(* Magadi - natural sodium bicarbonate complex deposit at lake Magadi, Kenya).

Said (1981) showed that NaOH treated maize stover was about equal to Chloris gayana hay in its nutritive value when fed to wether sheep. He also reported that NH3 treated maize stover fed to steers was apparently better than Chloris gayana hay, and at 26 percent silage DM replacement level, it was only slightly inferior to sorghum silage. A review of treatment methods tried in Kenya and their limitations was given by Said et al (1982).

Thairu and Tessema (1985) showed that urea treated maize stover fed to sheep and goats with either leucaena leucocephala or pigeon pea (leaves and stems) gave better liveweight gains compared to feeding untreated maize stover with leucaena and with pigeon pea. Treatment was with 5 percent urea solution sprinkled on the chopped stover and left in air tight bins.

Work is in progress in the Department of Animal Production University of Nairobi, on urea treated wheat straw fed to wether sheep (Alayu 1985), and on the dacron bag digestion of urea treated maize stover (Said and Wanyoike 1986). Another study on the utilization of urea treated maize stover supplemented with varying levels of oil cakes is about to be started (Chepkitony and Sundstol 1986).

Advantages of Urea Treatment

Under Kenyan conditions urea is cheaper compared to NaOH and NH3, the two most effective treatment chemicals. It is easily available as a fertilizer grade urea in small packs of 2 kg. It is not hazardous to use compared with NaOH and NH3 and it has the added advantage of increasing the nitrogen content of the roughage in form of NPN, which could be used by the rumen microflora to synthesize microbial protein; other conditions in the rumen being right.

Saadullah et al (1981) reported that crude protein content of rice straw increased from 2.9 percent in untreated straw to 5.9 percent after 20 days ensilage with 5 percent urea. Khan and Davis (1981) reported significantly increased dry matter intake and increased liveweight gain and increased total milk production from urea treated rice straw at 5 percent urea and ensiled for seven days only.

Recommended Package

Based on the present knowledge for urea treatment, it is recommended that smallholders in Kenya should use maize stover in a urea treated ensiled form by the method described by Khan and Davis (1981). Depending upon the available resources farmers can either use a hand-operated chaff cutter to chop the stover or they can use ordinary methods of chopping it into smaller pieces, 1-2 cm lengths.

Batches of 10 kg chopped stover should be sprinkled with urea solution made up of 0.5 kg urea dissolved in 10 litres of water. The treated stover should immediately be put in polyethylene (500 gauge) bags measuring 70 cm x 120 cm. Alternatively ordinary polyethylene bags that come with fertilizers can be used. Bamboo baskets or papyrus baskets can be used but they should be plastered with a mixture of mud and cow dung and lined with banana leaves. Ordinary silage pits can also be used successfully. Recommended size is 4 x 3 m and about 1.5 m deep. The pit should be lined with banana leaves (Saadullah et al. 1981) and the top should be covered with banana leaves or polyethylene sheet, on top of which should be put about 30 cm of soil.

In both cases ensiling should be for two weeks. Khan and Davis (1981) successfully ensiled rice straw for seven days and Hossain and Rahman (1981) reported that there was no advantage in prolonging treatment time beyond two weeks. The ensiled maize stover should be ready for feeding either plain or ideally with a green fodder supplement, molasses or with concentrates by farmers on commercial dairy enterprise.

Alternative Feed Resources

An important characteristic of the Kenyan smallholders who keep cattle as well as grow food crops and/or cash crops is the distinction between those smallholders who are actively engaged in commercial dairy production from improved dairy cattle and those to whom milk production from the local zebu cattle is, at the very best, providing milk for home consumption and a little surplus for the local markets. In the second setting the main uses of the cattle are for draught power and/or a source of cash income when the need arises. The need and urgency for alternative feed resources are accordingly variable. The recent thrust on introduction of dual purpose dairy goat within the smallholders in Western Kenya by SR-CRSP/MALD may also provide new incentives for alternative feed resources. Almost all the smallholders in Kenya that keep sheep and goats make no special efforts to provide additional feeds for them. They are either tethered around the homesteads or are expected to scavenge around.

Potter (1985), Abate et al (1985), Thairu and Tessema (1985), Mukhebi et al (1985) and Onim et al (1986) looked at various aspects of alternative feed resources for smallholders in Kenya. Said (1986a,b) reviewed feed constraints and strategies in two of the highly populated, intensively farmed districts in Kenya; Kiambu and Kakmega. Dzowela (1985) reviewed the role of legume forages in improving the utilization of maize stover by smallholders in Malawi. In their Technical Note No. 1 KARI (1985) gave results of their work on Bana grass, integration of maize and livestock production and on the use of poultry waste in cattle rations. Saleem (1984) reviewed the role of forage legumes in agropastoral production systems within the subhumid zones of Nigeria.

Based on our own assessments and the quoted works the following are suggested as alternative feed resources for smallholders:

Bana/Napier grass: Assuming that there is an economic incentive by the smallholder to grow fodder on the very limited available land, results have shown that Bana/Napier grass used on a "cut and carry" method would be a possible crop to consider. The extra labour required would be compensated by the manure that would be obtained from the animals. Extension efforts should be on establishing "bulking plots" of Bana/Napier grass for distribution to the farmers. It is estimated that 1 ha will yield enough bulking material for 30 ha.

Dual purpose fodder/food crops and/or intercropping: Intercropping fodder crops with food crops and/or planting dual purpose food crops such as pigeon peas, lab lab, cassava, and cow peas. Other dual purpose crops such as Sesbania sesban and Leucaena leucocephala would provide forage and fire wood. Some legume crops and/or pasture legumes could be intercropped with maize.

Maize defoliation: Recent studies on the use of green maize leaves derived by defoliating the growing plant have shown that it is possible to obtain up to 1 tonne of forage dry matter per hectare over a three month period without adversely reducing grain yield. However, this innovation needs to be restudied in various ecozones as responses on the grain yield; the main crop by the smallholders may be different in different ecozones. In some cases defoliation has been observed to increase lodging.

Use of other arable farm by-products: These include sweet potato vines, bean haulms, banana leaves and peelings, cassava leaves and peelings and other home offals.

Fodder conservation: Grass and other fodders from the road side or from no man's-land could be conserved into silage or hay. Ensilage could be made in polyethylene bags or pits. Small-scale hay making could be made as per innovation devised by the SR-CRSP/MALD method. It consists of a simple wooden box, a grass cutting sickle and sisal twine. One family can make 10 bales each of 20 kg in one month on part time basis or 4 bales a day on full time basis.

Stovers and fodder legumes: Chopped maize, millet or sorghum stovers will give better performance if fed with forage legumes or with molasses by smallholders in the sugar cane belt. Small holders nearer the urban areas may have the incentive to feed the stovers with some concentrates to increase intake and digestibility.


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