If you have ever done a spot of gardening, you will realise that, unless you have green fingers, it is pretty hard to get your plant to grow exactly as you like it. Getting the right amount of water, putting it in the correct place, feeding it with the right kind of soil and nutrients are all important, and a little mistake, could be the end of your beloved plant. Some plants seem pretty easy to maintain, but trust me, anything can be killed. (I even managed to destroy a cactus by over watering it!)
So, scale this up to an actual farm and put that farm somewhere in Africa where there is a lot more to contend with than just watering your tomatoes on your balcony. I am not keen on writing about the negative stereotypes of Africa, but farming can be nay on impossible in some regions of the continent. Right now in East Africa they are preparing, with some difficulty for the onset of a potentially devastating drought. The UN estimates that roughly 6 million people in Somalia, northern Kenya, southern Ethiopia and South Sudan are at risk and will need some sort of aid. El Nino is this time the cause of this drought, but this is the third to sweep the region in the last 25 years. With climate change also impacting on weather, it is more and more important for African farmers to cultivate techniques that get the most out of the land and resources available.
One technique that is becoming popular worldwide is aquaponics farming. Aquaponics is a system that combines aquaculture, which is the farming of fish or any other water based animal, such as snails and prawns, and hydroponics, the growing of plants in water. Essentially, it is a micro climate, or a mini water cycle, which needs very little input from the farmer. The fish are fed, and then excrete into the water, then, after a little treatment, the water is pumped up to the plants. The water then travels through the plants where it leaves all the nutrients and is filtered before it returns once again to the fish.
As you may have guessed there is a little expense for running this, with a pump needed. It is also important to have a small oxygenator to keep the plants and the fish healthy. But, with sun as a great natural resource in Africa, this can easily be run via solar power and small batter for the night time. But, it is only one pump that is needed as gravity does most of the work. The water is pumped to the highest point and then flows down towards the lowest.
So, why is this good for Africa? With water shortages and unpredictable rainfall in much of the continent, aquaponics is the perfect solution. It uses an estimated 2% of the water used in irrigation farming. That is staggering difference that makes you realise exactly how much water is being wasted in irrigation farming. The efficiency doesn’t stop there, some have said that aquaponics is 10 times more productive for crop growing than normal farming. This is because you can grow crops on more than one level, and because they have a constant supply of nutrients. It could even be turned into a sustainable circular system, where the fish essentially grow their own food, so no need to spend on expensive fish food. Not only do you get a food crop, you get a fish crop, so there are two types of income, which are more reliable.
The system in the below video is a great set up in Kenya by Nelson Mmbando.
I don’t want to make aquaponics sound too easy. A little mistake can destroy your whole fish stock, so it is important that people are properly trained in the management of the farm. Even cleanliness is important, as the wrong bacteria entering the water supply could lead to disaster. The acidity of the water and the amount of nitrate in the water is are also important. But, if this system is used and maintained properly it can bring profitable and sustainable farming all year round in a region that usually has to sit and hope on an unreliable water supply.
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