Hydroponic Africa: Sustainable soilless farming
Hydroponics farming is a method of growing plants without soil. It is an old school method but newly modified.
Hydroponics is used mainly as a controlled system for the production of out of season crops, for growing crops in areas where the soil is not suitable for cultivation, or where water supply is limited. It is also useful for studies in plant nutrition, plant diseases, and plant breeding, where growth under exact conditions is needed. Almost any type of plant can be grown hydroponically.
Hydroponically grown crops use up to 90% less water and 50% less land compared to traditional farming for the same crops with a yield of four times the amount of crop. The crop growth is two times faster than soil based plants as they are fed with the right amount of nutrients, water, and oxygen. Until 1936, hydroponics was practiced primarily in labs to research plant growth and how the root develops.
In East Africa Hydroponics Africa is pioneering into this method of farming. With four years of experience, they specialize in the manufacturing, installation and marketing of customized hydroponic fodder and vegetable systems to help small and medium holder farmers have access to a high quality, cost-effective and sustainable way of farming.
Peter Chege the founder and CEO not new to the agricultural sector in Kenya, began supplying farmers with nutritional feeds, in 2002. Through his work, he noted that farmers incurred high costs in animal feeds despite having poor quality. This is what catapulted him to start Hydroponics Africa in 2013. He developed hydroponic systems that would grow quality fodder for farmers at a cheaper cost. Using the same system, a variety of vegetables such as lettuce and spinach can also be planted for human consumption. The system uses 60% less fertilizer as compared to traditional farming.
The profit making enterprise mainly targets milk and vegetable small to medium farmers. The plants, grown through hydroponics, are used as fodder for domestic animals such as dairy cows, pigs, chicken, and rabbits among the many. This reduces the cost in purchasing animal feeds and also offers better nutrition for the animals thus providing better quality meat and milk. The materials used for installation are also inexpensive and are locally attainable. Peter also provides aluminium trays with coating that are patented, which make plants fungi resistant.
Hydroponics Africa has so far installed over 3,500 hydroponics units to small scale farmers 65% of them being in arid regions. They have installed widely in East Africa: Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda and have in effect trained over 5000 farmers.
Kenya Climate Ventures (KCV) which is a subsidiary of Kenya Climate Innovation Center (KCIC) has invested $350,000 in Hydroponics Africa as convertible loan. The funds will be used for product standardization to ensure consistent consumer offering, achieve operational efficiencies by lowering costs, implementation of a consumer financing strategy that will increase sales and accelerate revenue growth. It will also go to distribution network development to improve access to new markets, international expansion strategy to grow organically or establish joint-venture and licensing arrangements. Lastly the funds will be used for business expansion (assets and physical facilities).
They have also received grants from VIA Water to the tune of 117,000 Euros for a pilot on hydroponics in Rwanda and a $500,000 grant from Securing Water for Food (SWFF) to support 4,000 households with vertical hydroponics.
By Michelle Mung’ata