GFAR blog

YAP proposal #255: Hydroponic Fodder: Increasing Milk Production and Income! (Yvonne Kamanga, Malawi)

Simple green house for hydroponic fodder

My name is Yvonne Kamanga, a 23-year-old Malawian lady, currently finishing my studies in a Master of Science in Animal Science at one of the agricultural universities in Malawi: the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR). And I’m a part-time lecturer in animal production at the LUANAR—Natural Resources College Campus. I have a strong passion for community and rural development, agriculture-wise.

Okay, so, I will skip the part where we state that the population in Malawi is increasing at 3.33% per year as of now and how this has tremendously affected us with our now limited non-increasing land!

This has affected agriculture in general, but I want to talk about livestock agriculture in Malawi, which is one of the poorest countries.

Livestock is second major source of income in the rural communities after crops, it is a living bank to them, being sold when urgent needs arise. These rural households mostly keep cattle (beef and dairy), sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, etc. under semi-scavenging systems.

The dairy farmer, however, who depends on milk sales for daily income, faces horrifically reduced milk production from his/her cow/s during the dry season, with increased feed prices on the market.

This is also because the farmer has to decide between using the little land he/she has, which is normally 0.5 acres, on average, in Malawi, for growing food crops to sustain them during the year, or growing livestock feed.

On the other hand, the grass in the community fields has dried out and is less palatable and less nutritious, triggering low milk production, which in turn reduces national milk supply in general.

So, I’ve recently been working on a technology that maximizes land use, increases feed availability in the dry season, and eventually improves milk production by at least 13%. This technology is called hydroponic fodder production system. Very simple and easy!

This is a system of growing livestock feed without soil, only water. It is done in a simple greenhouse containing wooden shelves onto which trays containing seeds are stack followed by routine manual watering.

This system has many advantages: it requires little space to as much as 1 m2 to feed two cows per day! Also, only 1 kg of seed into a hydroponic system produces ten times its weight in fodder. In addition, one only needs two to three litres of water to produce 1 kg of green fodder whereas conventional (soil-using) methods require an average of 80 litres of water to produce the same quantity, making it water saving. As a matter of fact, the fodder is ready within seven days!

The procedure is quite simple: the seeds of preference are planted in plastic trays, in a simple greenhouse where they are lightly sprinkled with water three times a day. The seeds sprout within 24 hours and in seven days grow up to seven to eight inches, ready for harvest and feeding. There’s no waste, the whole thing is consumed, from the roots to the sprouts. Very green, very fresh—just the way the cows love their feed!

So far, there’s no record of practice by farmers of this system is Malawi. However, the system has been practised in other countries such as the US, Kenya, and Uganda, using highly automated equipment, which farmers in a country like mine cannot afford.

Hydroponic fodderSo, I’ve been working on a simpler version on-station at my university under the animal science department student’s farm, perfecting it to be cost effective to suit the smallholder, resource-poor farmer. With evident results, cows fed hydroponically produced fodder increased their milk production by 13%. Now, I would like to take it to the communities.

I intend to build one large unit of a hydroponic fodder production system in a selected local community where farmers are organized into milk bulking groups; the particular group owning the greenhouse will serve as a model unit. In this unit, dairy farmers will grow a common grain, which after harvest will be fed to their dairy cows while some will be sold to other dairy farmers for sustainability.

The farmers will be trained on a seven-day procedure for growing hydroponic fodder in advance. With this presumed increase in income from sustainable milk sales, the farmers will later be able to obtain enough cash to build their own little hydroponic fodder units in their backyards.

To fully achieve this project, it will be conducted in three phases over one year: identification, implementation, and evaluation stage.

In the first phase, identification of the pilot milk bulking group and awareness campaign through training on construction, use and benefits of the system will cost USD 1,600.

In the second phase, construction of a hydroponic fodder production unit, purchasing seeds, disinfectants, other materials, and growing fodder will cost USD 3,000.

The final stage, which will aim at evaluating the project through field visits and farmers’ feedback will approximately cost USD 400. The total budget for this project is USD 5,000.

Being a young lady active in agriculture, I believe this is a big step in promoting dairy production and improving income among the rural farmers in Malawi. There’s nothing that makes me sleep with a smile than knowing that I positively impacted someone’s life. Let’s get the knowledge working!


Blogpost and picture submitted by Yvonne Kamanga (Malawi): yvonnekamanga[at]

The content, structure and grammar are at the discretion of the author only.


This post is published as proposal #255 of “YAP” – our “Youth Agripreneur Project”.

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“YAP” is part of the #GCARD3 process, the third Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development.


90 thoughts on “YAP proposal #255: Hydroponic Fodder: Increasing Milk Production and Income! (Yvonne Kamanga, Malawi)”

  1. I like that notion…Lets use the knowledge we have for the betterment of a greater wider community. Now, that’s development. However, my experience with Malawian dairy farmers is that there is so much collusion to fix prices by the buyers. Do you have any plans to assist the farmers in that regard? I think increased milk production levels need to be matched with good prices for the farmers to reap the value they deserve.

    1. Thank you Lovemore, that is very correct. Firstly the increased milk yield from these cows will raise the farmers’ income even from fixed prices. Secondly, I will try to lobby with the government on the prices to standardize an amicable price for both sellers and buyers.

      1. Yvonne this is a wonderful proposal. I’m not too sure about the one metre square part. However, I think the price fixing issue and market price collusion is an entirely different problem and might be out of scope here. Best advice is probably we should get another person come up with a more market driven proposal that will change the market structure and conduct of the milk markets. Lovemore could you write it? Q

  2. This is so interesting. Malawi indeed does not have the technology. We need it!

  3. This is interesting. We really dont have this technology in malawi. We need it to solve the feed challenges!

  4. The proposal is viable and more relevant as it is aiming at enhancing efficient use of limited resources so it’s cost effective.

  5. This is a brilliant initiative. I had no idea it was possible to grow livestock feed without soil!

    It would be interesting to see how this could be leveraged to enhance rural development.

    1. Wow Richard! I never thought it also solves soil erosion by lessening conventional fodder growing methods until your comment! Thank you for bringing it to my realization. 🙂

  6. This is a nice development which I believe can help both the smallholder farmers and large intensive farmers. Mainly smallholder farmers have problems to feed their animals during the dry season since grass has dried out. So introduced this system will help the farmers to reduce the problem of low milk letdown during the dry season.
    All the best as you are doing all the research.

  7. This is a nice proposal though the author should be consistent with terminology like growing hydroponic fodder and not hydroponic feed. You do not grow feed but fodder or pasture. The other thing is to consider the sampling techniques used to identify participating farmers as well as the experimental designs used in the on station experiment as well as on farm trials. Overall it is a field worthy investigation in Malawi.

  8. Wow, Very innovative and with the current situation this country is in, Malawi can look forward to a brighter day in the agricultural sector….very encouraging, your ideas should be implemented …
    Best of Luck

  9. this is amazing and very interesting…i would like to see if we can come up with altenartive materials especially in construction for a smallholder farmer considering most of them are resource poor but are at the same time the most affected by the problems you have mentioned.

    1. Exactly Tewa! And the good thing is this design mostly uses locally available resources, the things they need to buy are equally affordable and can be further improvised. Thank you 🙂

  10. This is admirable. Keep working on this idea, perfecting it and linking it to production. I suppose science without strategic attachment to production to help poor farmers is useless.

  11. thats agood idea since milk production can help farmers to improve their financial status

  12. Oooh yes have seen it working perfectly in crop production in Australia not knowing e also have our our genius in livestock production .Big up im planning to write one in crops hope you are the best candidate for guidance..Very important more especially these days of climate change

    .Good lucky

  13. Wow, this is great work Yvone, especally now that climate variability and changes has greatly affected vegetation stance.. well done.

  14. This is a brilliant proposal. I think it can be used in other countries as well. It can reduce fights (war) between the crop farmers and the cattle rearers, This project can also mitigate climate change by reducing methane gas production in the environment. Best of luck.

  15. Yvonne overall am overwhelmed with your project. Your project is something tangible and brings hope to the underdeveloped livestock production industry in Malawi. This project will revolutionize the way we see livestock, feed processing and production. Its my sincere hope that your findings will reach farmers at the grass-root communities and areas since its a challenge for local farmers in these grass-root areas to access, learn and utilize such research information and findings. Am wishing you luck and best wishes in this project.

  16. I like the idea. Malawi has for a long time depended on maize and tobacco for income. But maybe milk and meat will also do us good. My advice is go ahead! Start on a small scale. With time hopefully it will grow into a national and international idea. Best wishes

  17. wow. this is really beautiful! am impressed. this is also critical to tackle malnutrition issues in Malawi. looking forward to the success of this initiative

  18. Have you done the cost benefit analysis of this technology? It is economically viable in a country like Malawi? From what I know as an agronomist , hydroponic production of either crops or fodder is very expensive.

  19. Awesome, i like this idea because is directly addressing one of the critical challenge of availability of adequate and quality feed especially in dry season.

  20. great work Yvonne! the dairy farmers are in great need of innovations such as these to boost the milk supply

  21. Innovative thinking. This is what we need in Malawi, People who can think outside the box. I love the idea Yvone

  22. Its a great idea…… Indeed shortage of fodder especially during the dry season constituents an immense challenge for livestock production. We really need this simple and cheap technology to address the challenge.

  23. Hi Yvonne
    I and my husband are dairy farmers in Zimbabwe. We tried hydroponic in 2014 with maize seed and the results were very impressive but we faced the challenge of monitoring its production because our staff were not hands on and sometimes it affected the feed because the maize would grow moulds before sprouting. The other challenge we faced was that maize here is Zimbabwe is very expensive and it resulted in the whole process not being favourable compared to other ways of our dairy herd feed. Please could you assist us in solving these huddles because I feel we want to try it again. Also if you are doing the project beyond Malawi borders could you also assist us here in Zimbabwe to set up our hydroponic projects since you have indicated that you have tailor made it for the local people with limited resources.
    Any response from you will be greatly appreciated.

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