Ministry of Agriculture Promotes Hydroponic Fodder Production to Alleviate Shortage of Animal Feed
Starting from the second half of this year, the Ministry of Agriculture is vigorously promoting hydroponic farming in dairy farmers. It is to be noted that the Ministry has been seeking for a number of solutions to solve the constant shortage of animal feed in general; and that of the dairy cattle in particular. Cultivation of green forage, possession of improved and manageable number of breed have been among the major priorities in this sub-sector. The adoption of hydroponic fodder production is, of course, one component of these initiatives.
The Public Relations Division of the Ministry of Agriculture has interviewed Ms. Almaz Gebreyohannes, Head of Agricultural Innovations Unit to shed light to readers as to how the hydroponic fodder farming is progressing in the country.
Question: Let’s start with what hydroponics is?
Answer: The word hydroponics is derived from two Greek words: ‘hydro’ meaning water and ‘ponos’ meaning labour i.e. working with water. Hence, it literally means farming without any soil but with only water. Hydroponic fodder production involves supplying cereal grains and pulses with the necessary moisture 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.
Q: What is the contribution of this technology in Agriculture; globally and regionally?
A: The methods of hydroponic fodder production date back to the 1800s or earlier, from the ‘Hanging Gardens of Babylon’ era, when European dairy farmers fed sprouted grains to their cows during winter to maintain milk production and improve fertility. However, currently there is a renewed interest in this technology due to shortage of green feed in most of the Middle East, African and Asian countries. It is worth mentioning that various countries have been conducting a number of studies during the past years to evaluate the effectiveness of hydroponic fodder. Similarly, the Ministry of Agriculture of the State of Eritrea conducted few trials to see the effect of hydroponic fodder in chicken, rabbit, pigs and horses; putting a number of feed parameters in to consideration for the last three years; and the results were promising.
Q: When and for what purpose did the MoA start hydroponics?
A: Since Eritrea is geographically located in the region which is prone to recurrent drought, it needs to adopt modern technologies to increase its food and feed production. Availability of fresh or dried grass for animal feed during dry seasons has been a great challenge for farmers for years. It is for this reason that the MoA started to introduce this technology in the late 2019. Though it is possible to produce food and feed with hydroponics, we are focusing on animal feed at this time.
Q: What crops are you growing with the help of this technology?
A: Even though a range of cereals and pulses can be grown by hydroponic farming, the most commonly used cereal grain is barley. There are a range of chemical and structural changes that take place within the cereal grain through the hydroponic growing process. Activation of enzymes within the grain leads to hydrolysis of proteins, carbohydrates and lipids into their simpler components. This hydrolysis increases the concentrations of amino acids, soluble sugars and fatty acids within the grain and resulting shoot. The grain also responds to the supply of moisture and nutrients by germinating, sprouting and then producing a 200 – 250 mm long vegetative green shoot with interwoven roots within 10 to 14 days. For instance, a kilo of barley seed can yield up to seven times of its original weight using this technology.
Q: What are its advantages?
A: It has many advantages. Continuous supply of fodder all year round in a small space and with minimum water. It can be managed with household labor and thus is economically feasible. It is also eco-friendly.
Q: What do we, then, expect from all these initiatives?
A: The MoA is carrying out considerable efforts to cascade the technology to all dairy cattle owners so that they are able to produce hydroponic fodder on their own; and provide enough and sustainable feed for their livestock.
Ms. Heran Yosief and Ms. Betlihiem Angesom are also young Agricultural engineers who are leading the hydroponic farming for the last two years to introduce it to the direct beneficiaries – the dairy cattle farmers. They run the hydroponic farming demonstration site located at the premises of the MoA headquarters.
According to them; a number of farmers and experts from different regions of the country have visited the demonstration site. Moreover, some trainings and experience sharing platforms were also organized to promote the technology.
Eng. Heran pointed out that the visiting farmers admire the new technology for it is easy to be adopted, and very important in alleviating the current animal feed shortages. Most of them have also promised to practice it in their farms, she added.
Eng. Betlhiem on her part said that the Agricultural Innovations Unit is providing training of trainers to experts from the six zobas. As of now, the technology has been piloted in Gash-Barka, Anseba and Maekel regions; and we are keenly following up their progress, she described. She also outlined that all the initiatives are showing promising results.
Finally, all these agricultural experts urged dairy farmers to adopt the technology and to approach the Ministry for any additional information.
Thank you all
Public Relations Division
Ministry of Agriculture
October 17, 2022