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.
So, 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]yahoo.com
The content, structure and grammar are at the discretion of the author only.
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