As many farmers across the country continue to lose their livestock due to a crippling drought that has ravaged large parts of the country, Agritech Namibia has introduced a new technology that is being described as a game changer in animal husbandry through the production of fodder in seven days.
The Windhoek Observer News Editor Nyasha Francis Nyaungwa (NFN) sat down with Agritech Namibia project coordinator Lawson Manyika (LM) to learn more about this new technology that is set to revolutionarise the country’s agriculture sector.
Below is an excerpt of that interview.
NFN: Can you please tell our readers what your company is all about?
LM: We are into hydroponics fodder feed production and capacity building. We train farmers in all aspects of farming and we introduce new technologies, mostly to communal farmers.
We look into poultry farming, honey bees farming and mushroom farming, so in essence what we want to do is to introduce communal farmers to new methods of farming that are responsive to climate change conditions that we are facing.
If we look at Namibia, the main focus has been on livestock production and not necessarily crops because of the climate and the fact that the sand is not favourable to crops. So through hydroponics, we are able to produce our own livestock feed.
We also train farmers in maggots farming so that they are able to produce their own maggots which are feed for poultry.
With the drought situation that we are faced with, hydroponics farmers are able to produce livestock feed for themselves sustainably and quite cheaply compared to what they would spend if they were to buy.
NFN: Have you had any buy-in from the government and other stakeholders given the devastating drought currently facing the country?
LM: We had a presentation from the Ministry of agriculture by the deputy director Erasmus Petrus and they are for the idea. As we speak, they are adopting the concept and they have assured us that they are drafting a proposal to cabinet based on our concept. They want to lobby the government to release funds for the training of farmers to get into hydroponics fodder feed.
They want farmers to produce fodder for themselves because we have demonstrated that government is able to save considerably when farmers are trained and are able to produce fodder for themselves.
When it comes to the farmers union, we have partnered with the Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU). With them they are looking at lobbying for the same thing. We are looking at sourcing funds from the European Union, GIZ (an NGO) and other stakeholders for us to roll out this project across the country.
NFN: Where will farmers get the water to successfully implement this project since the country is currently experiencing a crippling drought?
LM: What happens with fodder feed production is that we use very minimal amounts of water. A farmer is able to produce up to a tonne of feed using around 600-700 litters of water and that water can be recycled to produce a further 9 tonnes so in essence, 600-700 litres of water produces 10 tonnes of fodder feed. Of course water is a challenge, but with the little water available, a farmer is able to produce fresh feed which is more nutritious than dry fodder.
That same water can still be fed to animals.
NFN: If the solution is as simple as you put it, how come it has never been implemented before in Namibia?
LM: It is actually quite a surprise. If you look at countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa, this system is widely adopted. Namibian farmers have to an extent been ignorant about this technology mostly because of lack of awareness and lack of research but now that the drought has been consistent because of climate change, farmers are now looking at other alternatives.
NFN: How long does it take for the fodder to grow?
LM: From germination to harvest, the process takes seven days, but if you are going to feed chickens, the process is shorter - you harvest after four days. So, for a poultry farmer, every fourth day you are harvesting, but for livestock farmers, you harvest after a week.
Harvesting ranges between seven and eight days because of temperature variation.
NFN: Are there areas in Namibia where this technology cannot be implemented?
LM: The good thing about hydroponics is that it can be practised anywhere around the world even in the Antarctic or the hottest places. What is only needed is a structure. Even in hot conditions, as long as the temperature varies between 14 to 29 degrees people will be able to produce.
Even when temperatures drop, you are still able to grow, but growth becomes slower. So you might harvest on day nine or 10 because fodder has to grow up to 30 cm before you harvest.
NFN: Who are you targeting with this technology?
LM: Communal farmers who have been hard hit by the drought. Commercial farmers also, but we have seen that most of them have the capacity to find alternative ways to come up with feed because of the support they get from GIZ and so on.
We believe we can make a major impact on communal farmers especially those in remote areas where there is very little water. The farmers have livestock, but they do not have any money, they cannot go to Agra to buy feed.
If government approves this, we are looking at a scenario where in the long term, instead of government spending lots of money when there is drought, that amount can be drastically reduced.
From a 50kg bag of barley seed, if all conditions are met, a farmer is able to produce between 400 to 500kg of feed which is half a tonne.
A 50kg bag of barley seed currently costs N$300. This produces half a tonne which translates to N$600 for a tonne which is sustainable and cheap If government is going to come in and subsidise the seed, it further benefits the farmers in the long term. We are looking at around 55 to 65 percent in cost savings.
For Namibian farmers this is a new concept so we have started training farmers individually, we have been holding workshops in all the regions.
We have trained farmers in all the regions, but the numbers are still small because the farmers pay for training from their own pocket. The most marginalised or most affected communal farmer with less than 20 cattle cannot even afford the training and this is where we are saying the government can actually come in and assist farmers in adopting this technology.
NFN: If Namibia rolls out this technology on a large scale, what is likely to change in the next 2 to 3 years?
LM: Even in a normal rainy season, a farmer can still use the barley fodder seed to fatten their livestock. In the next two three years we are looking at a situation where farmers are able to sustainably produce their own feed even if there is a drought so that our national herd can be sustained and increase in terms of numbers.
NFN: What challenges have you faced so far in trying to roll out this technology?
LM: The challenges we have faced are that most of the farmers do not have the funds to come for training. We are not an NGO; we do not have any funding which is why we are partnering with the farmers union so that they can help unlock funds from the international community. We have many interested parties that can come through and assist farmers.
What we are saying is that we want this structure to be replicated at the lowest cost possible and in the absence of our expertise, farmers should be able do this on their own and produce results.