Cenchrus purpureus, synonym Pennisetum purpureum, also known as Napier grass, elephant grass or Uganda grass, is a species of perennial tropical grass native to the African grasslands. It has low water and nutrient requirements, and therefore can make use of otherwise uncultivated lands. Historically, this wild species has been used primarily for grazing, recently, however, it has been used as part of a push–pull agricultural pest management strategy. Napier grasses improve soil fertility, and protect arid land from soil erosion. It is also utilized for firebreaks, windbreaks, in paper pulp production and most recently to produce bio-oil, biogas and charcoal.
Cenchrus purpureus (or napier grass) is a monocot C4 perennial grass in the family Poaceae. It is tall and forms in robust bamboo-like clumps. It is a heterozygous plant, but seeds rarely fully form; more often it reproduces vegetatively through stolons which are horizontal shoots above the soil that extend from the parent plant to offspring. It requires low water and nutrient inputs. Napier grass plantations produce about 40 tonnes of dry biomass per hectare per year with an average energy content 18 GJ per tonne, and the grass can be harvested many times per year. Generally, the grass is harvested in relatively short intervals (every 1 to 3 months) when it is to be used as fodder for animals (its main use), and relatively long intervals (4–12 months) when used for bioenergy. Longer intervals increases the stem/leaf ratio, making the forage harder to chew and digest, but in many cases the annual dry yield increases. The grass can reach a height of 7-8 meters after 4 months of growth. It produces best growth between 25 and 40 °C, and little growth below about 15 °C, with growth ceasing at 10 °C. Tops are killed by frost, but plants re-grow with the onset of warm, moist conditions. Grows from sea level to over 2,000 m elevation. It can be propagated through seeds, however as seed production is inconsistent, collection is difficult. Alternatively, it can be planted through stem cuttings of the stolons. The cuttings can be planted by inserting them along furrows 75 cm apart, both along and between rows.
Yield depends on management techniques (e.g. fertilizer), soil quality, rain, sunshine and temperature. Recognizing its potential as a bioenergy crop, some yield trials have been carried out around the world. In Malaysia, Halim et al. tested 9 different napier variants and found that regular napier grass yielded the most (65 dry tonnes per hectare per year), with the King Grass variant second (62 tonnes). In Colombia, Cardona et al. estimates a yield range of 40–60 dry tonnes for the napier variant King Grass, under optimal conditions. In drier areas however, yields decline; Gwayumba et al. estimate 15–40 dry tonnes as the general yield range for Kenya. At the top end of the range, napier grasses have been shown to yield up to 80 dry tonnes per hectare per year, and commercial napier grass developers advertise yields of roughly 100 dry tonnes per hectare per year, provided there is an adequate amount of rain or irrigation available (100 mm per month). These yields are high compared to other types of energy crops. For large-scale plantations with pines, acacias, poplars and willows in temperate regions, Smil estimates yields of 5–15 dry tonnes per hectare per year, and for similarly large plantations, with eucalyptus, acacia, leucaena, pinus and dalbergia in tropical and subtropical regions, his estimate is 20–25 dry tonnes. In Brazil, the average yield for eucalyptus is 21 t/ha, but in Africa, India and Southeast Asia, typical eucalyptus yields are below 10 t/ha.
Push-pull pest management
The push-pull pest management technique involves the desired crop being planted alongside a 'push' plant, which repels pests, in combination with a 'pull' crop around the perimeter of the plot, which draw insects out of the plot. Napier grass has shown potential at attracting stemborer moths (a main cause of yield loss in Africa) away from maize and hence is the "pull" crop. This strategy is much more sustainable, serves more purposes and is more affordable for farmers than insecticide use. Stemborers (Busseola fusca and Chilo partellus) are the cause of 10% of total yield loss in Southern and Eastern Africa and on average 14-15% in sub-Saharan Africa. The larvae cause immense damage to maize and sorghum by burrowing into their stems and eating from within. This not only makes them difficult to detect and remove but also damages the vascular tissue necessary for plant growth. Insecticide effectiveness is low against stemborers, as larvae are protected by protective cell wall layers around the stem. Insecticides are also expensive for poor farmers and can build chemical resistance by the pests. In addition, chemicals are carried into final food products. Instead of trying to prevent the occurrence of pests, the push-pull strategy (also known as stimuli-deterrent) aims to guide their inevitable biological evolution to prevent damage to valued crops. The method proposes that sorghum or corn be intercropped with Desmodium (the "push" plant), which repels the moths as they look to lay their eggs. Desmodium also provides a ground cover and is nitrogen fixing, which improves soil fertility while decreasing labour involved with weeding. This deterrent is used in combination with Napier grass planted around the perimeter of the plot. A study of Kenyan farmers using the push-pull strategy reported an 89% reduction in Striga (a parasitic weed), an 83% increase in soil fertility, and 52% effectiveness in stemborer control. Considering that striga, stemborers, and low soil fertility together cause yield losses of an estimated 7 billion US dollars or enough to feed 27 million people, the implementation of this technique could significantly reduce food insecurity.
Although promising as a sustainable and affordable option, the success of push-pull pest management highly depends on proper implementation in combination with other good ecological practices. Firstly, not all varieties of Napier grass function as a trap. In a study of eight varieties, only two bana and Ugandan hairless Napier varieties significantly attracted female moths for egg placement over maize. Of these two, only bana significantly decreased survival rates. In a farmer's field, it is recommended that three rows of bana Napier grass be planted as a border crop around the entire field. Potential exists to improve the push-pull strategy through further trials with different intercrops, by manipulating allelochemicals in each intercrop, as well as by investigating insect sensitivity to natural chemicals. Once prominent in a field, it is difficult to rid the area of the stemborer pests as larvae can remain dormant, and therefore push-pull management will not have the intended effect. It is recommended that if an infestation is particularly severe, neither corn, nor sorghum should be planted in the same field the following year but instead rotated with other crops. It is also important to burn infested stalks or, if they have an intended use, to leave them out in the sun for three days. The use of push-pull pest management must be used in combination with good ecological practices to yield the desired results. Finally, the establishment of a push-pull system requires increased labour in the primary stages and a large enough land plot to allow space for a non-food crop to be planted; these factors often deter its adoption. A program could increase adoption rates through promoting its use in combination with livestock, giving economic value to the planting of Napier. More information can be found at http://www.push-pull.net/ as well as specifics for implementation at http://www.push-pull.net/farmers_guide_2012.pdf .
Napier grass is the most important fodder crop for the dairy farmers in East Africa. Its high productivity makes it particularly suited to feed cattle and buffaloes. Hairless varieties, such as Ugandan hairless, have much higher value as fodder. As it is able to grow with little water and nutrients, grazing has made productive use of arid lands for food production. Furthermore, livestock can be incorporated into the pull-push management system providing another economically viable purpose for the ‘trap’ plant. Napier grass is valuable to African landscapes as it prevents soil erosion. It can also serve as a fire break, a wind break, and to improve soil fertility. More recently, Napier has been used to alleviate pressure on food production as there is 2Gha of non-arable land suitable for energy crop production. Thermal pyrolytic conversion is used to produce charcoal, biogas and bio-oil. Although this technology is not currently in use, it could be implemented as a means of providing energy to African communities, while enriching the soils of the local landscape. It is also used as source of fuel. The young leaves and shoots are edible and are cooked to make soups and stews.
A Dutch company has turned the grass into a plastic that can be used for packaging.
- Paudel, Dev; Kannan, Baskaran; Yang, Xiping; Harris-Shultz, Karen; Thudi, Mahendar; Varshney, Rajeev K.; Altpeter, Fredy; Wang, Jianping (2018-09-26). "Surveying the genome and constructing a high-density genetic map of napiergrass ( Cenchrus purpureus Schumach)". Scientific Reports. 8 (1): 14419. Bibcode:2018NatSR...814419P. doi:10.1038/s41598-018-32674-x. ISSN 2045-2322. PMC 6158254. PMID 30258215.
- [Farrell, G., Simons, S. A., & Hillocks, R. J. (2002). Pests, diseases, and weeds of Napier grass, Pennisetum purpureum: a review. International Journal of Pest Management, 48(1), 39-48.]
- [Strezov, V., Evans, T. J., & Hayman, C. (2008). Thermal conversion of elephant grass Pennisetum purpureum Schum) to bio-gas, bio-oil and charcoal. Bioresources Technology, 99, 8394-8399.]
- [Khan, Z. R., Midega, C. A. O., Wadhams, L. J., Pickett, J. A., & Mumuni, A. (2007). Evaluation of Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureun) varieties for use as trap plants for the management of African stemborer (Busseola fusca) in a push-pull strategy Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, 124, 201-211.]
- See page 831: Flores, Rilner A.; Urquiaga, Segundo; Alves, Bruno J. R.; Collier, Leonardo S.; Boddey, Robert M. (1990-01-06). "Yield and quality of elephant grass biomass produced in the cerrados region for bioenergy". Engenharia Agrícola. 32 (5): 831–839. doi:10.1590/S0100-69162012000500003. ISSN 0100-6916. Retrieved 2020-09-15.
- Ansah, T.; Osafo, E.; Hansen, Hanne (2010). "Herbage yield and chemical composition of four varieties of Napier (Pennisetum purpureum) grass harvested at three different days after planting". Agriculture and Biology Journal of North America. Science Hub. 1 (5): 928, table 4. doi:10.5251/abjna.2010.1.5.923.929. ISSN 2151-7525.
- "Cenchrus purpureus & hybrids". Tropical Forages. Retrieved 2020-10-04.
- [Aminah, A. Wong, C. C. & Eng P. K. (1997). Techniques for rapid vegetative multiplication for pasture species and commercial production. Regional Forage Development, FAO, Rome, pp167-178.]
- The soil was fertilised, rainfall was 2700 mm. For yield results, see table 2, page 40: "Yield and nutritive quality of nine Napier grass varieties in Malaysia" (PDF). Semantic Scholar. S2CID 59143548. Retrieved 2020-08-29.
- See page 206: Cardona, Eliana; Rios, Jorge; Peña, Juan; Peñuela, Mariana; Rios, Luis (2016). "King Grass: A very promising material for the production of second generation ethanol in tropical countries". Biomass and Bioenergy. Elsevier BV. 95: 206–213. doi:10.1016/j.biombioe.2016.10.008. ISSN 0961-9534.
- See page 516: Gwayumba, W.; Christensen, D. A.; McKinnon, J. J.; Yu, P. (2002-04-01). "Dry Matter Intake, Digestibility and Milk Yield by Friesian Cows Fed Two Napier Grass Varieties" (PDF). Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Sciences. Asian Australasian Association of Animal Production Societies. 15 (4): 516–521. doi:10.5713/ajas.2002.516. ISSN 1011-2367.
- Zhang et al. measured a bana grass yield of 74 dry tonnes per hectare per year with light fertilisation and 1000 mm rainfall. See pages 96, 98: Zhang, Xia; Gu, Hongru; Ding, Chenglong; Zhong, Jianli; Xu, Nengxiang (2010). "Path coefficient and cluster analyses of yield and morphological traits in Pennisetum purpureum" (PDF). Tropical Grasslands. Institute of Animal Science, Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Nanjing, China. 44: 95–102. S2CID 55554503.
- Hoshino et al. measured a yield of 75.6 dry tonnes per hectare per year the second year of growth under heavy fertilisation and with rainfall level 1000 mm annually. See pages 310, 311, 315: Hoshino, Masao; Ono, Shigeru; Sirikiratayanond, Nittaya (1979). "Dry Matter Production of Tropical Grasses and Legumes and its Seasonal Change in Thailand" (PDF). Japanese Journal of Grassland Science. 24: 310–317. doi:10.14941/grass.24.310.
- Vicente-Chandler et al. found that heavily fertilized napiergrass produced 75,661 pounds of dry matter per acre per year when cut at 90-day intervals, equivalent to 84.8 tonnes per hectare per year. See page 202: Vicente-Chandler, Jose; Silva, Servando; Figarella, Jacinto (1959). "The Effect of Nitrogen Fertilization and Frequency of Cutting on the Yield and Composition of Three Tropical Grasses". Agronomy Journal. Wiley. 51 (4): 202–206. doi:10.2134/agronj1959.00021962005100040006x. ISSN 0002-1962.
- "The total water requirements are approximately 100 mm (4 inches) per month rainfall equivalent. [...] The yield of Giant King Grass depends on the time between harvests. For example, a six-month harvest of tall Giant King Grass, one can expect to obtain 80 or more US tons per acre (180 metric tons per hectare) of fresh grass at approximately 70-75% moisture. For two harvests per year, double these figures." Viaspace (2020). "Giant King® Grass: Grow and Harvest". Retrieved 11 July 2020.
- Mackay quotes yields of 360 wet tonnes per hectare per year, but does not quantify moisture content. Mackay (2020). "Mackay Bana Grass". Retrieved 11 July 2020.
- See pages 85-86: Smil, Vaclav (2015). Power density: a key to understanding energy sources and uses. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-02914-8. OCLC 897401827.
- [Miller, J. R., & Cowles, R. S. (1990). Stimulo-deterrent diversion: A concept and its possible application to onion maggot control. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 16(11), 3197-3212.]
- [Khan, Z. R., Amudavi, D. M., Midega, C. A. O., Wanyama, J. M., & Pickett, J. A.(2008). Farmers' perceptions of a 'push-pull' technology for control of cereal stemborers and striga weed in western Kenya. Crop Protection, 27, 976-987.]
- "Scientists back use of Napier grass as sustainable way to feed herds". Africanews. 2020-01-31. Retrieved 2020-02-07.
- Heuzé V., Tran G., Giger-Reverdin S., Lebas F., 2016. Elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum). Feedipedia, a programme by INRA, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. https://www.feedipedia.org/node/395 Last updated on June 23, 2016, 17:09
- "Bioplastic – Vibers". Retrieved 2020-02-13.
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