Peter Chege has been in the agriculture supply business since 2002. But in 2013, he tried something new: He started building hydroponic systems that enable farmers to grow animal feed, without soil, in about seven days. Four years later, the company Hydroponics Africa has installed farming systems in Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda, and has trained over 5,000 people in how to use them.
Hydroponics is a method of growing crops, without soil, using water with mineral nutrient solutions. Although hydroponics relies primarily on water, the system is efficient in managing the resource. Studies indicate that hydroponics systems are at least ten times more efficient in water usage compared to field farming. With the hydroponic system, barley grows to about 30 centimeters —the harvest size for cattle feed — in five to seven days. It takes several weeks for barley to grow to the same size using conventional farming methods.
When growing in a hydroponic system, plants do not expend energy rooting out nutrients from the soil, which explains the expedited growth. The farmer has near total control over the nutrients the plant receives. “These plants are able to reach their genetic potential because of the tightly controlled environment,” says Mr. Chege. With higher-quality and quicker yields, hydroponic systems can provide farmers with a smart-agriculture technique that allows them to grow animal feed, crops, and vegetables more effectively and efficiently.
Hydroponic system in Kenya. © infoDev / World Bank
Peter Chege is one of the green entrepreneurs supported by the Kenya Climate Innovation Center (CIC). The center has provided him with business skills, technical expertise, and mentorship to help him turn technologies into viable businesses. The Kenya CIC is also helping him with matters such intellectual property rights.
On his small plot of land in Kikuyu, Peter Chege grows tomatoes, barley, lettuce, and strawberries on a reservoir of nutrients in water. By using his own hydroponics technology, he has eliminated the use of soil and has higher crop yields. “You really do not need soil or land to grow most crops. Soil is simply a medium that transports the nutrients to the plants’ roots, but it can be replaced”, said Mr. Chege.
Hydroponic technology has been practiced for centuries across the world and is frequently used in Australia and the United States. Mr. Chege’s has adapted and refined the technology to fit Kenya, and he is hoping that hydroponics will soon become a commonplace practice for Kenyan farmers.
Hydroponics Kenya is one of green enterprises supported by the World Bank / infoDev's Climate Technology Program, an initiative sponsored by the U.K.’s Department for International Development, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Australian Aid), Denmark’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DANIDA), Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs.