Less water, no soil, more fodder: Kenya farmers beat drought
SEE ALSO :I make Sh4,000 per day from milkSevere drought and lack of pasture nearly forced Njoki to sell her five dairy cows in 2014. “I was spending over Sh5,000 (about $50) per month on grass for my livestock,” she said. She started growing fodder using hydroponics after hearing about the technology at a training session, and says she now produces enough of it to feed her cattle, even during droughts. “My cows’ milk production is no longer affected by drought,” she explained. “I earn between Sh15,000 and Sh20,000 ($147-196) per month by selling milk to local hotels and residents, compared to less than Sh12,000 ($118) before,” she added. Njoroge said the fact that hydroponics uses cereals like barley, rather than staple crops like maize, ensures farmers do not need to deprive themselves of food to feed their livestock. Samuel Mbugua, director of Grandeur Africa, another company that trains farmers to grow hydroponic fodder, thinks it also helps avert conflict between herders. “Herders in arid areas often encroach on other farmers’ land in search of grazing areas, if they don’t have enough pasture,” he said. Although it has helped improve farmers’ fortunes, hydroponics is not without its challenges, said Njoroge. Many farmers lack the financial resources to buy the trays and shelter needed to grow hydroponic fodder, he explained. “A simple shed can cost 10,000 shillings ($100) to set up, but smallholder farmers often don’t have that capital,” he said. And while hydroponic fodder needs less water than varieties like Napier grass to grow, it still requires about a litre per kilo of fodder, he added. “So we encourage farmers to harvest rainwater from their rooftops or from the ground,” he said. More needs to be done to teach farmers the specialist skills associated with hydroponics, with not enough extension officers available to visit farmers, say experts.