WINDHOEK - An entrepreneurial couple from a plot at Brakwater has embarked on a countrywide mission to empower small scale farmers and encourage aspiring farmers to grow their own livestock fodder as the crippling drought of 2019 is depleting grazing and devastating rangelands with each and every passing day.
After a successful launch of their proven methods on how to grow fodder for small scale farming in Windhoek some two weeks ago, husband and wife Rudi and Lindi Hattingh, owners of Green Fever Farming, took their expertise to Keetmanshoop in the south where the drought is wreaking havoc and animals are dying on a daily basis without fodder. Then they undertook a long journey to visit small scale farmers in the Ongwediva area and surrounding settlements, returning last Sunday with a wealth of new information about the dire need for farmers to grow their own fodder.
The couple say they have tried various ways to grow feed within seven days and stress that you don’t need expensive containers or costly infrastructure for the basic set-up of such a fodder-growing scheme. Rudi says the current state of vegetation confirms that most parts of Namibia are in the grip of a severe drought. The only areas that should not complain of drought are the eastern areas, in patches. “This drought is crippling the country’s agricultural sector that depends on extensive livestock production off natural rangelands. We cannot become more resilient to drought except doing the obvious: no longer farming with livestock. We could reduce the number of livestock we keep, permanently.
“This option is a non-starter as the economic squeeze of declining farm income and rising input prices force farmers to stock more animals, not less. So we need to grow more feed for our animals,” says Rudi, adding that since farming predominantly with cattle and sheep, which are grazers, there is a need to grow more grass.
He says Namibia’s degraded rangelands cannot grow more grass. Bush encroachment threatens 85 percent of the country; all woodland, savanna and Nama-Karoo vegetation types. The denser the bush, the less the grass and the fewer cattle, sheep and game can be sustained in a long-term on these rangelands.
In extreme cases in north-western, central-western and southern Namibia, degraded rangelands are turning into deserts, losing their grass production potential forever, desertification expert Dr Axel Rothauge, has warned.
There is a renewed interest in fodder systems for dairy and livestock production systems. As organic grain prices have remained high and organic hay in short supply because of drought conditions across the Southern African development Community (Sadc) region, producers are looking for information about fodder sprouting systems to supply essential nutrients to livestock.
Living sprouts are extremely high in nutrients. Due to the high moisture content (80 – 85 percent) sprouts can improve hydration in animals.
Growing sprouts uses less than three percent of the amount of water required for standard forage production. Even in times of severe drought one can have fresh green feed. There’s no fertiliser used, no pesticides and no soil. The most commonly used grain is barley, which is primarily a NON-GMO crop. Sprouts in animal diets have proven to increase Omega-3 levels. This applies to meat, milk and eggs.
Hattingh says one can build small DIY systems and sprouting in confined spaces. For a small system, one can purchase specific fodder sprouting trays or can make her/his own. Barley seed is most commonly used and recommended. The nutrition level of barley is extremely high and it’s commonly called a “super food”. Pre-soaking the seeds up to 24 hours is often a necessary step for DIY systems.
Sprouts must be kept wet and light is important for chlorophyll to turn the sprouts green and have some nutritional benefit. There are many perceived benefits to growing fodder for livestock systems. A fodder system can feed a vast variety of livestock for milk and meat production. Depending on feed costs of hay and grain, fodder may produce a higher quality feed for less money than traditional methods.
A system of dry-land cultivated grass pastures is technically feasible for Namibia’s livestock farmers. It will, however, not make communal farmers more resilient to drought if they cannot cash in on it due to structural hurdles that prevent them from marketing their products freely and readily accessing knowledge, development capital and agricultural inputs.
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