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Farming without soil: the big bet for achieving food security

  • By Pamela Okutoyi
  • December 17, 2020
  • 0 Comment

Traditional soil-grown crop production has worked well for thousands of years, but there is one fact that has placed strain on conventional agriculture: The human population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050. With that comes a demand that already stressed fields can not necessarily supply.

For Peter Chege, founder and owner of Hydroponics Africa, the niche for him was soilless farming. With this technology, Peter is hoping to bridge the gap between supply and demand by growing crops in highly controlled indoor environments instead of traditional outdoor methods. This hydroponics company which uses water (minimal) instead of soil, has in the recent past become highly popular among farmers because of the high-quality yields it offers.

Hydroponics farming comes in a variety of formats, but all boast benefits such as an ability to pivot quickly, a cleaner crop, a hyperlocal supply chain and a more sustainable operation than traditional farming.

Getting these farms up and running can also happen much more quickly than clearing fields and tilling the soil to make it suitable as productive farmland. As most farmers think about expansion, this new form of farming offers a lot of advantages by being able to scale quickly to meet demand.

This technique is using a mineral nutrient solution in a water solvent. It is proven to be safe, fast, more economical and most importantly, sustainable. There are many techniques in farming that cater to the different growing conditions that farmers have to deal with. For example, there is the use of natural inputs to produce healthy and chemical free food.

“We accept individuals and groups who are interested in this kind of farming industry. We provide seminars and training that will lead them towards a sustainable way of life and an innovative source of livelihood,” Chege says.

Benefits of hydroponic farming

Having worked as a chemical engineer, Chege has applied most of what he learned in his farm and he is now able to give farmers the desired nutrients that the crops require to thrive. He asserts that there are numerous benefits in implementing these practices aside from being growing a large number of plants in a limited space and without the use of soil.

“It is more environment-friendly than conventional farming because hydroponics uses less amount of water and refrains from applying using fertilizers and insecticides due to growing crops in an already controlled environment,” he adds.

Another benefit of going the soilless route is that it generates more income as it barely requires manpower to maintain the plants while also generating 20 to 25 percent more produce compared to conventional farming. The greenhouse concept promotes year-round growth rather than waiting for the right season to grow particular plants. Rain-fed agriculture has for a long time been affected by season fluctuations and caused great losses to farmers.

“In fact, almost everything can be grown following the hydroponic method. We developed a few affordable and efficient systems which include, hydroponic vegetable unit and the hydroponic fodder system,” Chege adds.

He further adds that the doors of Hydroponics Africa are always open to those who want to learn about the trade as this is the new technology to help achieve food security in the country.

In addition to hydroponics, the farm also develops aquaponics and aeroponics systems. The basic principle of aeroponic growing is to grow plants suspended in a closed or semi-closed environment by spraying the plant’s dangling roots and lower stem with an atomised or sprayed nutrient-rich water solution. In an aquaponic system, water from an aquaculture system is fed to a hydroponic system where the by-products are broken down by converting bacteria initially into nitrites and subsequently into nitrates that are utilised by the plants as nutrients.

Chege hopes to share this farming techniques with farmers all across the country so that they too can experience the joy of farming without too much labor and energy. His farm offers installations of hydroponic systems to interested parties. The systems are customized to fit the different needs of their clients, whether for small or large-scale production, or for an indoor or outdoor setting.