I have being following the hydroponics technology trend for some times now. And this is made possible through one of my friend, who is also the number one proponent of hydoponics technology in Nigeria; Pastor Adebowale Onafowora. The technology which is fast providing succor to livestock farmers and dramatically changing and restoring hopes to the livestock farming in Nigeria through fodder production. As a fish farmer, I watch with amazement how this amazing technology is helping poultry, pig, cow, rabbit, grasscutter farmers among several to smile to the banks, and wander when would my own ‘saviour’ show up! I beleive the universal mind heard my supplication. I was privileged to attend another of Pastor Adebowale’s BIC Farms training not too long ago in Portharcourt where among several other revelations the conveyner revealed this ‘superorganism’ called Azolla.
My objective in this blog today is to look into the application and practice of hydroponics technology to the production of one of the world’s major source of protein and business opportunities. That is, to show catfish farmers all over how we can profitably do catfish business using hydroponics technology/Azolla.
Catfish farming is undoubtedly faced with many challenges, among such is high cost of of production, of important note is cost of fish feed. http://www.dailytrust.com.ng/news/agriculture/high-fish-feeds-prices-forcing-lagos-farmers-out-of-business/167687.html The prices of fish feeds in recent time have gone up by as high as 80 to 100 percent. The challenge of high cost of feed is forcing some fish farmers to abandon their farms in search of other business ventures. You will recall that Cost of feed alone account for over 65% cost of production and apparently a major concern. Despite our capacity to feed the world, it is disturbing that Nigeria still spend about $700m on fish importation annually, http://t.guardian.ng/features/nigeria-spends-700m-on-fish-imports-annually-minister/. As someone that is concern with helping farmers maximize their experience, it was a major discovery that their is a technology that promises to help fish farmers come out of this hard time.
Why is Azolla unique?
Azolla is unique because it is one of the fastest growing plants on the planet – yet it does not need any soil to grow. This made this superorganism to fall into class of hydroponics(soiless)
Unlike almost all other plants, Azolla is able to get its nitrogen fertilizer directly from the atmosphere. That means that it is able to produce biofertilizer, livestock feed, food and biofuel exactly where they are needed and, at the same time, draw down large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere, thus helping to reduce the threat of climate change.
Suitability of Azolla as a livestock feed
Green plants have long been recognized as the cheapest and most abundant potential source of proteins because of their ability to synthesize amino acids from a wide range of virtually unlimited and readily available primary materials (Fasuyi & Aletor, 2005)
Azolla is very rich in proteins, essential amino acids, vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin B12, Beta Carotene), growth promoter intermediaries and minerals including calcium, phosphorous, potassium, ferrous, copper, magnesium. On a dry weight basis, Azolla has 25-35% protein content, 10-15% mineral content, and 7-10% comprising a combination of amino acids, bio-active substances and biopolymers (Kamalasanana et al., 2002). Azolla’s carbohydrate and oil content is very low.
Azolla is also rich in iron (1000–8600 ppm dry weight), copper (3–210 ppm dry weight) manganese (120–2700 ppm dry weight), vitamin A (300–600 ppm dry weight.), vitamin A (300–600 ppm dry weigh), chlorophyll and carotenes. It contains 4.8–6.7% dry weight crude fat, with 6.1–7.7% and 12.8– 26.4% total fat for the polyunsaturated acids omega 3 and omega 6 (Paoletti et al., 1987).
Azolla meal contains 25.78% crude protein, 15.71% crude fiber, 3.47% ether extract, 15.76% ash and 30.08% nitrogen free extract on the air-dry basis (Basak et al., 2002). In addition, aquatic plant species including Azolla do not to accumulate secondary plant compounds and therefore has a greater potential than tree leaves to source protein for monogastric animals.
Becerra et al. (1995), Lumpkin & Plucknett (1982) and Van Hove & López (1983) all concluded that Azolla is the most promising aquatic plant for livestock feed due to its ease of cultivation, productivity and nutritive value. Azolla’s use as a feed for fish, swine and poultry was also tested and recommended by Alcantara & Querubin (1985) and Tran & Dao (1979) reported that one hectare of Azolla can produce 540-720 kg of protein per month.
Azolla’s composition therefore makes it one of the most economic and efficient feed substitutes for livestock, particularly as can be easily digested by livestock due to its high protein and low lignin content.
Azolla and Fish
Azolla is a potential food for freshwater fish farming for two reasons:
1. The primary limiting factor for productivity of tropical aquatic ecosystems is often the bioavailability of nitrogen, which can be supplied by Azolla-Anabaena.
2. Approximately 95% of the cost of formulating an average production diet is related to meeting protein and energy needs of the fish, and these are contain in azolla.
Catfish are generally classified as omnivores or predators. Micha (1973) examined catfishes from the River Ubangui (Central African Republic) and found that C. lazera (= C. gariepinus) fed mainly on aquatic insects, fish and higher plant debris. They have been found to feed on terrestrial insects, molluscs and fruits(fao). Without further argument, Azolla remains a potential food for catfish.
More on Azolla soon.