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By Moses Kaketo

A good number of poultry products  sold in supermarkets in Uganda is said to be imports from Brazil. This begs the question: how is it possible to import chicken thousands of miles away and sell better than the locally-produced ones?

The secret is in using hydroponic fodder – a method that cuts costs by more than half. Statistics from the International Livestock Research Institute (LRI) reveals that feeding accounts for more than 75 per cent of the total cost of feeding. By reducing on input costs, farmers in Brazil are able to sell their products across the globe at competitive prices.

read: Uganda seeks to feed the world through the new Fertilizer Policy

Hydroponics is the art of growing plants in a very small area using mineral nutrients solutions in water and barley without soil. The growing of fodder for feeding livestock takes between seven and 30 days depending on animals you are feeding. Fodder for pigs takes seven days to mature. The fodder is very nutritious.

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Research shows that the system is more efficient in managing water usage in comparison to conventional farming.

Cost-benefit analysis

Land is becoming less fertile, scare and very expensive. With the ever-increasing threat of climate change against need to increase food security, the innovation is timely.

Land prices are on the rise. Imagine a 50ft by 100ft piece of land costing Ugx 60m and after building the house, you have nothing to do on the land. However, with the hydroponic fodder system, the remaining piece of land after building a house can help keep one or two cows which can fetch you good money.

read: Is there a future for smallholder farmers?

According to Peter Chege, the managing director, Minerals and Allied Formulation Centre Limited, a company based in Kenya and the brains behind localizing hydroponics, the benefits of fodder are enormous.

“For cattle farmers, hydroponic fodder increases milk production by 15 per cent, reduces cost of feeding by Kshs 150 per cow. For beef cattle, the cow adds one kilogramme per day as opposed to 200gm per day when farmers use conventional methods of farming. Conventionally, it would take you a year for your cow to put on such weight. What this means is that you can be able to sell cattle every after six months as opposed to one year.”

Chege adds that pig farmers, in Kenya are now saving KSh 2,500(Ugx 70,000) per pig compared to conventional farmers whose expenditures doubles.

After six months, pigs fed on hydroponic fodder are able to attain weight of between 58kg and 74 kg depending on the breed.

According to Chris Mulindwa, the marketing Manager , Pig Production and Marketing , the fodder also reduces fat coat from 14mm to 7mm. This means the farmer can fetch more money. Female pigs (mothers) fed on fodder have more piglets (up to 14 piglets), and are strong because the mother produces a lot of milk. Above all, there is no smell which comes from pigs fed on conventional feeds.

At a recent piggery workshop held in Jobiah Hotel in Mukono, piggery farmers who have tried the system said it was the way to go as it increases farm productivity and reduces costs of running the farm.

Chege says there are more than 400 farmers in Kenya, ten in Uganda and five in Rwanda using the system and not regretting their investment.

Mr. Chege says on his small plot of land in Kikuyuland, Kenya, he grows tomatoes, barley, lettuce and strawberries on a reservoir of nutrients in water. He says by using this system, he and a host of other farmers have been able to use their land to the maximum.

“You really do not need soil or land to grow most crops. Soil is simply a medium that transports the nutrients to the plant’s roots but can be replaced,” he says.

A volume of 5m height, 3m width and 3m length can grow fodder that can feed over 50 pigs.

Read: How to transform Uganda’s agriculture

Chege explains that through several trials they have done in Kenya, for cattle, space required to feed 30 cows is 8m by 10m as opposed to more than 100 acres under conventional methods. This means that you are able to monitor your farm very well and minimize losses and other attendant problems that arise with conventional farming methods.

Thus, irrespective of where you live, you can turn farming into money-minting venture. The system also uses 80 per cent less water compared to field farming.

Hydroponics is not a new concept. It was first practised in Australia in early 1930. According to Chege, what has delayed its use and adoption in Africa is that it has been very expensive.

He adds: “I did research on how to make hydroponics nutrients for growing crops and today, you can get the system for as low as Ugx 3 million. That can feed up to 50 pigs.”

Chege, an analytical chemist by profession, says the system is a big step for farmers as it carries away the burden of depending on rain-fed agriculture and thus a solution to food insecurity currently facing the region. The system has proved very success in United States of America, Australia and other countries.

Cost of the system

In an exclusive interview, Chege says they can make units depending on animals a given farmer owns.

“We can make a unit from one cow up to 200 cows. For a unit for one cow, it costs Ugx 3m. this is the minimum setup. All you need is to plant one tray every day to ensure consistency.

The biggest requirement is the housing whose temperature must note go beyond 25 degrees Celsius and use chemically-treated trays to prevent fungi.

Chege says, in eastern Kenya, they are working with with USAID and Feed Child Initiative to partner with over 2,000 farmers to grow barley, a key ingredient in growing fodder. The development comes as demand for the system grows by the day.

With support from Kenyan government and World Bank, Chege says, they have been able to build these systems to more than 400 farmers in Kenya which has boosted production in the region.

The ministry of Agriculture in Kenya has also played a pivotal role in training farmers using demonstration farms and showground which has helped to popularize and boost farmers’ knowledge.

It is unfortunate that the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) has folded too soon. Otherwise, such agricultural practices should have been their flag bearer project. National Agricultural and Research Organisation (NARO) has the opportunity of making this happen. There is need to get such information to Ugandan farmers.

Source: Moses Kaketo

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