A Palestinian has become the first to succeed in growing ferns to feed his farm animals without paying the high prices for imported fodder.
Forty-three-year-old Wael Musallem from Beit Lahia, in the north of the Gaza Strip, has successfully produced Azolla ferns after many failed efforts by local farmers.
Wael owns a poultry and cattle farm and had relied completely on imported fodder to feed the animals. This, mixed with Gaza's already bleak economic situation as a result of Israel's stifling siege, put him into debt.
Azollas include seven species of aquatic ferns that float on water surfaces. They have symbiotic bonds with algae and have a high percentage of protein, ranging between 25 per cent and 30 per cent of their dry weight. It is also used as a biofertiliser.
"I contacted an individual abroad and he told me about Azolla ferns and how beneficial they are. I tried to find a way to bring them into Gaza. It took me four months," said Wael.
"After several failed attempts to find the right way to plant Azollas, I succeeded in planting them, relying on my past experience in agriculture. I have about 300-500 metres of containers of planted Azollas, and I use them as feed for my fish, ducks, cattle and poultry."
"Azollas are planted once and they reproduce on their own based on the water area allocated for the plant. It requires a specific climate and the water area must be 50 per cent covered. It also must not be under direct sunlight," Wael explained.
As for the Azolla strategy and its benefit, Wael noted: "We can almost completely eliminate some kinds of feed and use Azollas as an alternative, especially as it has a high protein content." He also noted that 90 per cent of fish feed can be made of Azollas, while the figure is 70 per cent for cattle, with the addition of a small amount of corn because they need carbohydrates. For poultry, Azollas can make up 50 per cent of their feed.
Musallem also pointed out that he managed to replace 90 per cent of the feed he used to import with Azollas for fish and 65 per cent for ducks. As a result his income has increased.
Having found a formula that works, Musallem is now helping other farmers plant this alternative food source for the benefit of their animals.