African Student Develops Sustainable Animal Feed to Combat Drought Conditions in Ghana

Black and white Head shot of David Mualen, black male wearing a knit sweater beneath a zip front hoodie David Umborjah Mualen


Biochemist Student, Sustainability Entrepreneur

Odorkor Addy-Junction, Greater Accra Region, Ghana

I believe the world will be a better place to live in if our agricultural sector is enhanced. To achieve 'No Poverty and Zero Hunger' as defined by the United Nations in its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, we must start with addressing the problem of food scarcity for livestock.

"Over 20 million livestock in Ghana are underfed in the dry season when temperatures reach 113 degrees Fahrenheit. It's a season of scarcity and no grass. The source of food for most livestock is left to the mercy of the harsh weather."

As a biochemist, David Umborjah Mualen understands the ripple effect that animal starvation has in his country. As the livelihoods of local farmers suffer, nearby citizens lose their source of nutritious beef, poultry, and pork, and the economies of entire communities face a downward spiral.

Silhouette of pig in front of a cow on standing in grass on cream coloured background with VARA WUDIU banner beneath animals and ANIMAL FEED flanked by stars in white beneath banner

Mualen, 26, who calls himself "a friend of the animals," grew up knowing something had to be done—and he wanted to be the person to do something. While a student at University for Development Studies, he had an idea to make natural livestock feed out of two plentiful and environmentally unfriendly products—dry grasses that burn uncontrollably in the heat and by-products from the processing of crops. He recruited fellow students to assist with research, and their work gained the attention of university faculty.

"Once we had some results, we ended up partnering with the animal science department. A few instructors came on board and advised us on figuring out the right formulation for livestock feed using the raw and waste materials available.

"We formulated livestock feed by mixing dry grasses with bean and rice chaff, orange peels, dry ground nut plants and a compound from tomatoes that makes fresh plants palatable for animals. Dry grasses and agricultural waste materials are easy to come by and are in unlimited supply."

With virtually no-cost ingredients and low production expenses, Mualen and his team are able to sell the feed at a lower cost than local farmers typically pay for feed—when they can get it.

Four Ghana farmers surround one with bag of Vara Wudiu atop his head outside a feedstore

They called their project Vara Wudiu, which means animal feed in the Ghanian language of Kasem, and entered it into the Ford College Community Challenge (C3), ultimately winning a $3,000 grant that was used to manufacture and ship 27 tons of livestock feed to farmers in Ghana. That was in 2018.

In 2019, Mualen was awarded the Ford Community Impact Fellowship and sent to Ford World Headquarters to learn directly from Ford scientists and engineers.

While in Dearborn, he learned from a fellow student about another prestigious leadership-development program called the Watson Institute in Boulder, Colo., which focuses on sustainability and socially sound enterprises. Mualen applied, and once accepted, Ford awarded him a scholarship to attend the four-month program in January 2020.

Working under world-renown leaders in sustainable business, Mualen wrote a long-term strategy for Vara Wudiu and is now seeking investment funding to expand into additional African countries. Press play on the video below to see Mualen's final presentation.

Though the program at Watson Institute ended in May, the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented him from returning to his home in Ghana. He continues to benefit from his time there but is eager to return home to continue his studies at the graduate level while working on Vara Wudiu.

In total, Mualen has participated in five Ford Fund-supported programs through which he has received nearly $40,000 in leadership and business development support.

"I must say, my life has not been the same since I came to the attention of Ford Fund. Thank you for giving me these opportunities and making my life better.

"Now I wish to share what I've gained to make change a reality. Working towards this end defines what I envision as my long-term goals.