When Peter Mwangi ventured into dairy farming two years ago, his biggest headache was the high prices of animal feeds.
He had bought three Friesian cows for Sh300,000 and the high cost of feeds was quickly dashing his hopes of turning the dairy farm into a money spinner.
“I used to spend almost Sh60,000 monthly to buy commercial feeds from other dairy farmers. I did not have enough land to invest in livestock feeds,” said Mr Mwangi.
After consultations and networking with experts, Mr Mwangi, 38, was introduced to a new technology of growing fodder crops that takes four days to mature.
“It’s one and a half month since I was introduced to this new technology by a friend. My three cows have increased milk production. I now feed them with less commercial feeds hence saving on cost. The hydroponic technology is cheap to start and easy to run for every farmer,” said Mr Mwangi.
He says milk production has increased by five litres every day per cow. Mr Mwangi says he now gets 40 litres of milk and makes about Sh180,000 a month.
Hydroponic technology is a system of growing crops without the use of soil.
The crops are grown in water mixed with nutrients that not only ensures the germination, and growth of quality crops but also increases the speed at which they germinate.
“The solution is like a liquid fertiliser that has all the nutrients considered necessary for plants growth,” he says.
Peter Kinyanjui, 35, a farmer in Muranga County, says the cost of commercial feeds has been on rise for years, forcing him to reduce the number of pigs he keeps.
‘‘I operate on a quarter of an acre and I have benefited from the new technology. I now feed my pigs on 90 per cent hydroponic fodder,” he said.
He says for Sh200, one is able to get five litres of the nutrient solution.
“The hydroponic system works well within a temperature range of 20-25 degree Celsius,” says Mr Kinyanjui, who is a beneficiary of the new technology invented by a 28-year-old university lecturer, Donatus Njoroge.
“My invention came as a way of offering a long-term solution to food crisis because it is one of the major concerns for Kenya which continues to grapple with climatic changes and insufficient modern technologies to eradicate hunger and livestock diseases,” Mr Njoroge said.
The graduate of industrial and analytical chemistry, Mr Njoroge says his invention is able to prevent livestock and plants diseases and pests.
“Hydroponic nutrient solution is able to grow most fodder crops to maturity in a record of four to seven days,” says the Mount Kenya University lecturer.
Under a pilot study of the technology invented in 2010, the institution is helping farmers to put up hydroponic farms in Kiambu and Murang’a counties.
The cost of putting up these structures is Sh10,000. The materials needed include wood, aluminium tray and the nutrient solution which is readily available.
“We prepare the solution which can be in form of macro and micronutrients. The components of the nutrients vary with the type of crop,” Mr Njoroge said.
An example of a crop grown using the hydroponics technology is barley which can grow to a height of up to 30cm in seven days as opposed to growing it in soil where it takes about 12 weeks.
To grow barley in a hydroponic system, one needs to soak the seeds for four hours then transfer the soaked seeds in an enclosed container that is aerated for 44 hours.
The seeds will start sprouting . Thereafter, they are removed and spread on aluminium tray.
For absorption purposes, the seeds are supplied with a nutrition solution which is watered two times per day, but at the same ensuring that excess solution is drained from the aluminium tray.
Besides barley, others crops that can be grown using the hydroponic technology includes maize, vegetables, tomatoes, fodder among others.
Mr Njoroge says food grown through this system is rich in nutrients, hygienic and it is a reliable method of farming as it can be done throughout the year given the fact that one is not at the mercy of external weather conditions.
“Hydroponic nutrient solution helps in supporting the growth and sustainability of livestock farming especially the dairy sub-sector, even in areas with harsh weather conditions,” he said.
Mr Njoroge train farmers on new technologies, financial literacy, agri-business services.
He says hydroponic fodder technology gives a farmer effective control over the environment, the yields are very predictable, budgeting is easier, the root zone aeration as well as adequate porosity of medium is ensued.
“Hydroponics can reduce irrigation water usage between 70 per cent and 90 per cent by recycling the run-off water,” he said.
The technology has become common in developed countries like the USA.
Mr Njoroge urged universities to do more research to transform the agriculture sector.
“If the research being done by various local universities is implemented, then the country would be free from poverty, hunger and diseases,” he says.