Scaling Hydroponic Technology for Dairy Farmers
The most important nutrient source for dairy cows is roughage, commonly known as green fodder. It is a source of energy, protein, and essential vitamins and minerals needed to maintain optimal body condition, milk production, and reproduction. However, due to land scarcity and lack of moisture, especially during the dry season, growing quality green fodder has long been a challenge for smallholder dairy farmers like W/ro Bery Gebreselase.
W/ro Bery and her husband, Ato Gebrekidan Tekeste, have been cattle farmers for 12 years. They live with their four children in Tigray region, Atsgede Tsimbela woreda; a location where the dry season lasts up to nine or ten months. They have six dairy cows, eight oxen, and six calves. They struggle to find affordable and quality green fodder because they do not own land, so they wait until the rainy season to take a short-term land lease from government-owned institutions to harvest weeds.
“I look for hospital and school compounds that are covered with weeds to lease. We then harvest every bit of grass and stock for the dry season,” says Bery. According to her this process is labor- and resource-intensive. “We pay for the land and cover transportation costs to get the feed to our home once harvested.”
To address these challenges, Feed the Future Ethiopia Value Chain Activity is introducing hydroponic technology to dairy farmers. Hydroponics, which is a method of growing plants without soil by using mineral-rich solutions in a water solvent, was new to the woreda. Therefore, the activity set up a demonstration site to help farmers to become familiar with the technology.
“When we first heard about the idea of growing plants on a plate, without soil, we thought it was impossible. But thanks to the activity's efforts, we see now the technology can be a solution to our problem,” Bery said.
In January 2018, Bery volunteered to be the first dairy farmer in the woreda to work with the activity to set up the Askede Tsimbila hydroponic demonstration site, which has served 225 farmers since its establishment.
“Within these two months, I have witnessed amazing results,” said Bery. “There is no need to have grazing land and storage space. From only one small jug of maize or barley grain, I get seven to eight kilograms of fresh fodder within the comfort of my home.”
Many farmers who visit W/ro Bery’s hydroponic greenhouse are excited about what they see and wish to adopt this innovative technology. To introduce this technology to more farmers, the activity is working on 18 additional hydroponic demonstration sites in Amhara, Tigray, and Oromia.