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Investor Promoting Chinese-Engineered ‘Magic Grass’ in Kenya

Agripreneur Jack Liu with a farm manager at the Juncao grass model farm in Nakuru, Kenya. Njenga Hakeenah / CGSP

When Jack Liu arrived in Kenya over 20 years ago, his immediate plan was to tap into Kenya’s construction sector, which was accelerating demand for materials most of which were shipped from China.

Liu set up a manufacturing company for construction materials and started supplying these to builders. As the sector evolved, he sought alternatives that would continue sustaining his stay in Kenya. In 2017, he introduced the Chinese ‘magic grass’ that is used as an animal feed.

In a country where climate change effects are hitting farmers the hardest, the grass popularly known as Juncao promises higher yields, more reliability, and better resilience against the effects of climate change.

The fodder crop is meant to address Kenya’s persistent animal feed problems caused by inadequate pasture production due to climate change. Since 2021, Liu has been popularizing the grass developed in China by Professor Lin Zhanxi in China after 30 years of research. The grass can be used as feed for animals, windbreaks and to minimize soil erosion.

After approval from the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS), he commenced growing the grass in his model farms which farmers visit to learn about the fodder. The Juncao technology involves breeding spore-producing organisms like molds, yeast or mushrooms with plants that have no woody stems and is currently available in 106 countries.

While Liu is not an agricultural scientist or a researcher in a lab, he sees himself as an “agripreneur” and a campaigner for the adoption of this unique grass.

Experts estimate that Kenya faces a 60% fodder shortfall of the 55 million tons needed to sustain its nationwide livestock annually. On the other hand, almost half of the available feed is lost post-harvest– a problem the Juncao grass solves since it can be stored for longer periods.

According to Liu, Juncao’s resilience and sustainability can play an important role in bolstering Kenya’s struggling livestock industry. The grass can yield 180 tonnes of fodder per acre. For planting, foot-long (30 cm) cuttings are buried 5 cm in the soil and after they shoot above the ground and establish their root system, they can yield up to 100 stems of grass that can reach 7-8 meters long.

Beyond providing fodder, Liu claims that Juncao grass can also help combat the effects of climate change. A plantation of Juncao contributes to air purification and reduces soil degradation. The waste products from Juncao are useful, including the dry leaves, which are converted into briquettes to replace firewood.

Joseph Mafurah, a plant pathologist at Egerton University, one of Kenya’s agriculture institutes, explained that the Juncao grass is a hybrid between elephant grass (napier) and bamboo. He added that this gives Juncao a competitive advantage over local fodder crops while increasing its palatability. 

Juncao grass also provides feed for other domestic animals such as sheep, chickens, fish, and pigs, thereby reducing the cost of purchasing additional feed. Liu believes that this technology can serve as a model to inspire innovative agricultural development across Africa.

Njenga Hakeenah contributed to this story.

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