Namibian farmers are slowly embracing hydroponics production as a means to an end against frequent dry and arid conditions of drought that the country is accustomed to, which places a tremendous strain on grazing pastures.
Hydroponics involves supplying cereal grain with necessary moisture and nutrients to enable germination and plant growth in the absence of a solid growing medium. The resulting green shoots and root mat are harvested and fed to livestock. The system has great advantages during drought situations, as it requires minimal water and has a very short growth period (seven days until harvest).
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN is amongst those that have led efforts to roll out hydroponics to various parts of the country.
To date, the organisation and its implementing partners assisted 3 343 livestock dependent smallholder farming households, equating to approximately 14 709 people in seven targeted regions of Kharas, Hardap, Kunene, Ohangwena, Omaheke, Erongo and Omusati regions.
Gebhardt Tjiho, FAO›s National Project Coordinator, told AgriToday that FAO availed 79 hydroponic fodder production greenhouse structures in the selected regions as well as supplying the needed barley seeds for production.
Tjiho said the direct beneficiaries who received training in hydroponic fodder production are in a position to produce from the structures for themselves. They also received basic training on animal health, including the administration of veterinary medicine as well as training on correct feeding of the livestock.
To this end, 148 910 small stock (goats and sheep) and 25 580 cattle belonging to the beneficiaries received fresh green barley fodder produced hydroponically in 79 greenhouse structures set up at various selected sites in the targeted regions hardest-hit by protracted drought conditions, Tjiho said.
All the beneficiaries’ livestock were vaccinated against various important diseases (Cattle – Anthrax, Botulism & Black Quarter; Small stock – Pulpy Kidney) and treated for both internal and external parasites, including having received multivitamin metabolic injections to boost their immune systems and overall health status,» he said.
The project, according to Tjiho, made a deliberate effort to reach women-headed households who own livestock and managed to assist a considerably high proportion – about 40% - of the total assisted households.
The hydroponics production training is part of FAO›s “Emergency livelihood support to drought-affected communities in Namibia”, which was initiated in January 2020 to assist government in its efforts to meet humanitarian needs brought forth by the prolonged drought situation in the country.
«In a bid to avert the devastating effects of the critical drought situation in Namibia, FAO, with financial assistance from the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (UNCERF), availed N$10 million to assist a targeted 3250 drought-stricken farming households (approximately 14 300 people) in seven drought-affected regions of Namibia,» Tjiho said.
Going forward, Tjiho said the project aimed to ensure that whatever livestock of the farmers survive and are in a good enough condition to not only be used for other household needs but can also reproduce to replace the animals lost due to drought.
Hopefully, the project has shed some light on the potential of hydroponic fodder production and will, thus, also trigger the production of barley seeds in the green scheme to ensure supply is adequate, as currently, the bulk of the barley seeds was supplied from South Africa.
The investigation into the use of all other locally produced grains such as maize, mahangu and sorghum is ongoing and provides an even cheaper/readily available input,» he said.
across the world as a great tool that farmers can use to provide supplementary feed to their livestock in times of drought when grazing is scarce.
The system requires only seed and water as production inputs with modest labour inputs while having minimal post-harvest losses, with no fuel required for harvesting and post-harvesting processes.
Moreover, in hydroponic systems, fodder is produced faster, taking only seven to eight days to develop from seed to fodder, while it takes 45-60 days under traditional systems.