Africa's future? Where food and fodder will be grown in air, using 98% less water – Mail & Guardian Africa

FARMERS across Africa face increasing challenges year in and year out. They have to adhere to planting seasons thrown into turmoil by climate change, are vulnerable to weather variations, the high input costs of farming in terms of fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides and, increasingly, seeds and climate change. 

One young Nigerian who is on a mission to change all this is Samson Ogbole, the founder of Sreach Aeroponics – an organisation which aims to train people on how to build and maintain systems where plants can be grown in the air. 

This means that everything from lettuce and tomatoes can be grown without soil and this can even be done indoors.

In an interview with Mail & Guardian Africa, Samson explained that he was first introduced to this soil-less system at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, where he studied for a year, after which he was taken on as a staffer and put in charge of an aeroponic system. 

“It’s a simple idea”, he said, “in aeroponics, plant roots aren’t in soil instead they’re secured to a support platform and held in place at the stem by foam so that the root system hangs below in an enclosed or semi-enclosed chamber.”

“A pipe, which is connected to a pump and timer, brings nutrients – whether organic or inorganic – dissolved in water and sprays it onto the roots. It’s not a complicated system, which many people think it is, all they need to do is monitor the nutrient to make sure it doesn’t finish!”  

(Diagram/hydroponicpassion.blogspot.com)

“I can teach people how to make their own organic nutrient solution, but for those that prefer inorganic, you have to buy chemicals the way you buy fertilisers.”

Samson explained that there are huge benefits of having plants literally grow in “thin air”, free from soil borne pests and soil pollution. 

The system can reduce water usage by 98%, fertiliser usage by 95%, pesticide usage by 99% and can increase crop yields by 45% to 75%. It also enables faster growth of up to 3 to 5 times faster than conventional growing in soil. Lettuce for instance, in traditional systems, can be grown from seed to harvest in 70 to 90 days. While aeroponics growing would take just 25 to 30 days. Other plants proved to also have fantastic yields as a result of the system include; beans, cucumber, tomatoes, peppers and ginger. 

But it isn’t all rosy. Samson also explained that there are three big limitations and drawbacks to using this system; there needs to be 24 hour electricity (though some are turning to solar energy to overcome this), the technical ability to know how to maintain and set up the system and, if done on a big commercial scale, the initial set up will be expensive. “But no matter how expensive – in the first year your returns are huge”, he said.

Samson’s newly founded company is currently producing custom-built aeroponics systems – made to the specification and space requirements of the client. 

To get an idea of cost he gave the example of a 5m by 1m lettuce aeroponics farm. The total cost for the system is 457,000 Naira ($2,290). 

This is a high cost but the production predictions were impressive. 

A square metre will contain 50 holes which means 50 plants. In this design there are 10 square metres, thus housing a total of 500 plants. In the case of lettuce, every 30 days, 500 plants will be harvested from this aeroponics system. This compared to a traditional farming system in which Samson claims a space of 10 square meters would produce 500 plants after 90 days – 3 times as long. 

How realistic is it to roll this out on a larger scale?

Big aeroponic systems can be made though there are limitations as to what can be grown. Root vegetables can start their growing process in this system but will eventually have to be transferred to soil to become harvest ready. 

However, it has been shown that starting the process with aeroponics is very useful in producing seeds and healthier crop for root vegetables too. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria for example has a project called the Yam improvement for income and Food Security in West Africa (YIIFSWA) which uses aeroponics. The system produce seeds, vine cuttings and mini tubers which they then hope to make readily available and affordable for yam producers in Nigeria and Ghana.

Speaking to Morufat Balogun from the project she said that this has “changed the yam seed system”. The system has improved the “quality of material planted in terms of seed health, vastly increased yields and seen tubers grow vigorously”. 

But it isn’t just food and seeds that can benefit. The aeroponics can also be used to combat one of soil’s greatest adversaries and one of our greatest challenges: climate change.

In an interview with Louis Visser of Qwik Gro aeroponic systems in South Africa, he said that their “[aeroponic] systems are more specifically designed for growing economical livestock fodder 365 days of the year, in a controlled environment, notwithstanding prevailing droughts.” This means that this system provides a consistent source of high quality, nutritious feed regardless of the weather, all year round!

For example, they are now in the process of constructing a feedlot for a 6000 lamb feedlot on 3.5 hectares of land and going to duplicate the same in Cape Town.

Systems like this offer one more option when looking at increasing the adaptive capacity of farmers, communities and governments to respond to the impending impacts of climate change.

View the original article here

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US supports hydroponics to revitalize Mideast food, water and security – Green Prophet

Visit to an hydroponic bell pepper farm

Growing crops without soil, otherwise known as hydroponic agriculture, is not a recent innovation. In fact, it can be traced back to ancient times and kingdoms like Babylonia, whose Hanging Gardens were said to have been created and nurtured by use of hydroponics.

The modern day Middle East, especially water-deprived countries like Jordan and Syria, has had on-going problems in that local agriculture cannot provide sufficient amounts of local food due to lack of sufficient water and arable land to grow crops. Other resource-rich countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates see hydroponics as the only solution for providing hyper local, fresh, nutritious food.

Jordan-hydroponics-eco-consult-a

As a result of this water scarcity problem, Jordan sees potential in hydroponic agricultural projects, which are said to use as much as 90 percent less water over conventional soil-based agriculture.

The Kingdom of Jordan is seeing commercial opportunities for local hydroponic farming and is getting some help from the USAID Hydroponic Green Farming Initiative (HGFI). Hydroponic agricultural projects growing vegetables by both hydroponic and organic methods were the subject of an event held in May 2015, where US Ambassador to Jordan Alice Wells featured these vegetables in an event with Jordanian governmental officials and local producers.

The event was aimed at showing how use of hydroponic growing techniques not only saves water resources but produces high quality yields as well. Ambassador Wells told the participants:

“The future of hydroponic farming techniques is bright in Jordan. Hydroponic farming techniques are well-suited toward maximizing Jordan’s scarce supply of water. From my visits to hydroponic farms in the Jordan Valley, I’ve seen that the potential to grow more produce through hydroponic techniques is significant, given the minimal additional investment required to implement them.”

vilsack-wells-jordan-2015-may_0

She added that hydroponic agriculture maximizes Jordan’s scarce water supplies. Her visits to hydroponic projects in the Jordan Valley indicate a good potential for this type of agriculture, with just a minimal additional investment required.

Chefs who attended the event were able to see the quality of the hydroponically-grown produce, which often uses no pesticides. Um Ali, who heads a woman’s agricultural cooperative in the north of Jordan, told the gathering that production of herbs like thyme is much better using hydroponic agriculture than by traditional soil methods:

“Our thyme production from hydroponic farming is far better than traditional soil farming. It uses much less water, which is scarce in Jordan. Our production is clean from soil diseases,” she said.

YouTube Preview Image

Building reliable markets for hydroponically-grown produce is equally important. The USAID program is designed to build greater awareness of the advantages of hydroponically-grown produce, and the chefs in attendance at the reception were able to experience first-hand the quality of produce from hydroponic fields. Developing strong domestic markets for produce will assist farmers in balancing the cyclical nature of produce grown for export.

Developing tools and an industry for hydroponics in the Middle East is just as important. Consider this super cool American company flux from New York powering up the entire industry by providing powerful monitors and controls for hydroponic farms, in the same way that Mobileye enables self-driving Tesla cars. The global market flux is tapping into will grow from about $19 billion today to $27 billion in 4 years. It’s a massive opportunity since there are few global players with no dominant, affordable solution for new businesses.

Jordan can and should be a part of that.

More about hydroponic agriculture in the Middle East:
Hydroponics in Qatar
Saudi Arabia’s OAXIS hydroponic food belt
Khalifa hydroponic farms paying off
Grow fresh food in the middle of Manhattan?
Hanging gardens of Babylon inspire water farming called hydroponics

Maurice Picow grew up in Oklahoma City, U.S.A., where he received a B.S. Degree in Business Administration. Following graduation, Maurice embarked on a career as a real estate broker before making the decision to make Aliyah to Israel. After arriving in Israel, he came involved in the insurance agency business and later in the moving and international relocation fields. Maurice became interested in writing news and commentary articles in the late 1990’s, and now writes feature articles for the The Jerusalem Post as well as being a regular contributor to Green Prophet. He has also written a non-fiction study on Islam, a two volume adventure novel, and is completing a romance novel about a forbidden love affair. Writing topics of particular interest for Green Prophet are those dealing with global warming and climate change, as well as clean technology – particularly electric cars. Maurice can be reached at maurice (at) greenprophet (dot) com.

View the original article here

Water quality needed for different hydroponic crops? – Part 2 – Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses

Following on from last month’s question on water quality, here are some more guidelines. These list the Dutch guidelines for the maximum levels of sodium that are acceptable in recirculating solutions for a range of crops.

I have also included more recommendations as to different water sources, especially the collection of rainwater.

Answer by RICK DONNAN

The quality of the raw water going into a hydroponic system is very important, especially if the system is recirculating (‘closed’). The ion most likely to cause problems is sodium (Na+).

Build-up of non-essential ions at constant EC. Figure 1. Build-up of non-essential ions at constant EC.

Build-up of sodium
Most recirculating systems are managed on the basis of maintaining constant EC (electrical conductivity—a measure of solution strength) of the recirculating solution. However, EC tells you nothing about the individual ions that make up that solution. Unfortunately, when non-essential ions, such as Na, are added in with the raw water at strengths higher than the plants take up, then their concentration will rise. This is shown in Figure 1, which indicates their increase with time.

When this happens there is a double whammy. The non-essential ions, such as Na, are increasing towards toxic levels. At the same time, the effective nutrient content of the solution is shrinking. That is, the plants are heading towards a mixture of being both poisoned and starved. Not a good combination.

Table 1. Maximum level of Na recommended for recirculating systems. Table 1. Maximum level of Na recommended for recirculating systems.

Maximum Na level in recirculating solutions
Table 1 giving recommended maximum levels of sodium in recirculating solutions for different hydroponic crops is based upon information given in ‘Bemestingsadviestbasis Substraten’, published by Proefstation voor Bloemisterij en Glasgroente, The Netherlands.

The original information is given in molar units (millimole/litre). A mole is the molecular weight of a molecule expressed as gram/litre. For an atom such as Na, molecular weight is the same as atomic weight, which for Na is 23. Because ppm (parts per million), also expressed as milligram/litre), is the unit commonly used in Australia and some other countries, I have also converted the molar units to ppm.

Water source
In the previous issue, I mentioned using reverse osmosis to remove the ions from input raw water that had too high a content of unwanted ions, such as Na. There is another possible source of water sometimes pure enough to use. This is rainwater, but care needs to be taken, apart from availability, dependent upon the frequency and quantity of rainfall.

Excess salt accumulates in the tomato plant in the older leaves. Leaves turn yellow, and will eventually fall off. The plant is stunted and not vigorous, but other symptoms may be lacking. Tomatoes are relatively salt tolerant. (Image Texas A&M AgriLife Research) Excess salt accumulates in the tomato plant in the older leaves. Leaves turn yellow, and will eventually fall off. The plant is stunted and not vigorous, but other symptoms may be lacking. Tomatoes are relatively salt tolerant. (Image Texas A&M AgriLife Research)

Rainwater which has flowed over the ground could to be contaminated with soil borne pathogens. Consequently, it is dangerous to use stream or dam water without it being sterilised. Sometimes growers get away with not sterilising if they are in an area with no other horticultural or agricultural activity. Often, this may last for a year or two (the honeymoon period), but usually disaster eventually strikes.

Rain collected off greenhouse, etc, roofs is usually cleaner, but is still risky if not sterilised, especially if in a dusty area.

Other aspects to watch are that if near the sea, sea mist and drift can result in high levels of salt collecting in the rain water. Also, do not collect water from galvanised roofs—a little zinc dissolved from the galvanised layer can give levels of zinc in the water which are toxic to plants. O

PH&G July 2016 / Issue 169

View the original article here

US supports hydroponics to revitalize Mideast food, water and security – Green Prophet

Visit to an hydroponic bell pepper farm

Growing crops without soil, otherwise known as hydroponic agriculture, is not a recent innovation. In fact, it can be traced back to ancient times and kingdoms like Babylonia, whose Hanging Gardens were said to have been created and nurtured by use of hydroponics.

The modern day Middle East, especially water-deprived countries like Jordan and Syria, has had on-going problems in that local agriculture cannot provide sufficient amounts of local food due to lack of sufficient water and arable land to grow crops. Other resource-rich countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates see hydroponics as the only solution for providing hyper local, fresh, nutritious food.

Jordan-hydroponics-eco-consult-a

As a result of this water scarcity problem, Jordan sees potential in hydroponic agricultural projects, which are said to use as much as 90 percent less water over conventional soil-based agriculture.

The Kingdom of Jordan is seeing commercial opportunities for local hydroponic farming and is getting some help from the USAID Hydroponic Green Farming Initiative (HGFI). Hydroponic agricultural projects growing vegetables by both hydroponic and organic methods were the subject of an event held in May 2015, where US Ambassador to Jordan Alice Wells featured these vegetables in an event with Jordanian governmental officials and local producers.

The event was aimed at showing how use of hydroponic growing techniques not only saves water resources but produces high quality yields as well. Ambassador Wells told the participants:

“The future of hydroponic farming techniques is bright in Jordan. Hydroponic farming techniques are well-suited toward maximizing Jordan’s scarce supply of water. From my visits to hydroponic farms in the Jordan Valley, I’ve seen that the potential to grow more produce through hydroponic techniques is significant, given the minimal additional investment required to implement them.”

vilsack-wells-jordan-2015-may_0

She added that hydroponic agriculture maximizes Jordan’s scarce water supplies. Her visits to hydroponic projects in the Jordan Valley indicate a good potential for this type of agriculture, with just a minimal additional investment required.

Chefs who attended the event were able to see the quality of the hydroponically-grown produce, which often uses no pesticides. Um Ali, who heads a woman’s agricultural cooperative in the north of Jordan, told the gathering that production of herbs like thyme is much better using hydroponic agriculture than by traditional soil methods:

“Our thyme production from hydroponic farming is far better than traditional soil farming. It uses much less water, which is scarce in Jordan. Our production is clean from soil diseases,” she said.

YouTube Preview Image

Building reliable markets for hydroponically-grown produce is equally important. The USAID program is designed to build greater awareness of the advantages of hydroponically-grown produce, and the chefs in attendance at the reception were able to experience first-hand the quality of produce from hydroponic fields. Developing strong domestic markets for produce will assist farmers in balancing the cyclical nature of produce grown for export.

Developing tools and an industry for hydroponics in the Middle East is just as important. Consider this super cool American company flux from New York powering up the entire industry by providing powerful monitors and controls for hydroponic farms, in the same way that Mobileye enables self-driving Tesla cars. The global market flux is tapping into will grow from about $19 billion today to $27 billion in 4 years. It’s a massive opportunity since there are few global players with no dominant, affordable solution for new businesses.

Jordan can and should be a part of that.

More about hydroponic agriculture in the Middle East:
Hydroponics in Qatar
Saudi Arabia’s OAXIS hydroponic food belt
Khalifa hydroponic farms paying off
Grow fresh food in the middle of Manhattan?
Hanging gardens of Babylon inspire water farming called hydroponics

Maurice Picow grew up in Oklahoma City, U.S.A., where he received a B.S. Degree in Business Administration. Following graduation, Maurice embarked on a career as a real estate broker before making the decision to make Aliyah to Israel. After arriving in Israel, he came involved in the insurance agency business and later in the moving and international relocation fields. Maurice became interested in writing news and commentary articles in the late 1990’s, and now writes feature articles for the The Jerusalem Post as well as being a regular contributor to Green Prophet. He has also written a non-fiction study on Islam, a two volume adventure novel, and is completing a romance novel about a forbidden love affair. Writing topics of particular interest for Green Prophet are those dealing with global warming and climate change, as well as clean technology – particularly electric cars. Maurice can be reached at maurice (at) greenprophet (dot) com.

View the original article here

Water quality needed for different hydroponic crops? – Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses

I am considering setting up a small commercial hydroponic farm using a recirculating system. I have read that water quality is very important for hydroponics, especially when recirculating. Is this correct and can you give me some guidelines as to the quality required to grow different crops in hydroponics?

Answer by RICK DONNAN
Yes, the quality of the raw water going into a hydroponic system is very important. The most significant chemical naturally occurring in water supplies is common salt (sodium chloride, formula NaCl).

In a ‘closed’ recirculating system, every time the salt build up is displaced from the system, it is returned to become part of the feed into the system. Hence, if the Na in the added raw water is higher than the crop can take up, the Na level in the recirculating solution will continue to rise. However, in an ‘open’, free drainage, system any modest build up of Na stabilises, because any excessive build up is pushed out of the system by the next irrigation cycle.

Salt or EX toxicity High salt or EC: These cucumber leaves appear dull and leathery.?A narrow yellow border develops around the leaf margin. (Image NSW Industry & Investment)

Crop sensitivity to sodium chloride
Different crops have different sensitivities to sodium chloride, although it is sodium which usually has the major impact. The Dutch have been studying this problem for many years and their results for vegetables and cut flowers follow:

Vegetable sensitivity to salt
Very sensitive
• Bean
• Strawberry

Sensitive
• Cucumber
• Capsicum
• Egg Plant
• Melon
• Lettuce

Tolerant
• Tomato
• Spinach
• Endive
• Radish

Cut flower sensitivity to salt
Very sensitive
• Anthurium
• Cymbidium

Sensitive
• Hippeastrum
• Gerbera
• Alstroemaria
• Rose
• Anemone
• Tulip
• Chrysanthemum
• Bouvardia

Tolerant
• Carnation
• Euphorbia fulgens
• Gypsophila
• Freesia

(From: Wageningen UR. (2014) Kwantitatieve Informatie voor de Glastuinbouw.)

Salt or EC toxicity Salinity causes wilting. Leaves appear dull and dark green and cup downwards. (Image NSW Industry & Investment)

Reducing Na levels
Unfortunately there is no way of removing only sodium ions from a solution. If the level of Na in your raw water is too high for the crop you are growing, then if you have a recirculating system your only choice is to install reverse osmosis (RO).

Reverse osmosis equipment mainly consists of tubular cells made of semi-permeable membrane. When pressurised these allow water to pass through, but block the passage of all dissolved ions including Na and Cl, as well as all nutrient ions. The result is chemically (and biologically) clean water. This is perfect for use in recirculating systems, and especially for salt sensitive crops.

One aspect of installing RO equipment is that you need to be able to handle the waste (brine) stream from the unit, which contains all the incoming salts. For example, say you have a unit that recovers 50% of the input as pure water. The brine stream will be the other 50% of the input, but contains all the salts, hence it will be twice as strong as the initial water supply.
Another aspect of RO to watch is that a major operating cost is the replacement of the expensive membranes. Ensure that you purchase your unit from someone experienced, because proper pre-treatment of your raw water is essential to prolong the life of the membranes.

‘Hard’ water
Water coming off limestone will often be “hard’, that is, it contains calcium (Ca) and bicarbonate (HCO3) and perhaps magnesium (Mg) ions. These are usually OK to use provided they are the only significant dissolved solids. Because the Ca and Mg are nutrients they can be used, however, the Ca and Mg in your fertiliser formulation must be adjusted downwards to make allowance for these free nutrients.

The bicarbonate will raise the pH and hence needs to be neutralised with acid, typically phosphoric or preferably nitric. Again, your fertiliser formulation must be adjusted to make allowance for the extra phosphate or nitrate ions added as part of the acid.

Iron and boron
Although iron (Fe) is a nutrient, in water supplies it is much more of a problem than a benefit. This is because it oxidises and hence is useless as a nutrient and also can cause dripper blockages. This is why hydroponic fertilisers have their iron in a stable chelated form. Iron in the raw water can be removed by aeration followed by settling or filtration.

A problem in some countries, but rarely in Australia, is water with too high a boron (B) content. O

June 2016 / Issue 168

View the original article here

Grow your own veggies with little water, soil or effort – Larchmont Chronicle

A FOUNDING FARMER of LA Urban Farms, Wendy Coleman at the recent Windsor Square-Hancock Park Historical Society garden tour. A FOUNDING FARMER of LA Urban Farms, Wendy Coleman at the recent Windsor Square-Hancock Park Historical Society garden tour.

Gardens can grow just about anywhere these days, even in the arid landscape of our fair city without soil, with minimal water and on a stackable Tower Garden from LA Urban Farms.

Just ask the mayor—Eric Garcetti—and First Lady Amy Elaine Wakeland. They have 14 towers at their home, the Getty House in Windsor Square.

The vertical planters, at 30”-round, fit in most backyards, patios and on rooftops, says Wendy Coleman, a Founding Farmer at LA Urban Farms.

Coleman was on hand at the recent Windsor Square-Hancock Park Historical Society’s “Living Alfresco” gardens tour. The Getty House was one of six private gardens on the tour.

The 14 towers were placed in the mayor’s backyard last summer, soon after he was impressed by a few he saw at a ribbon cutting he attended in Hollywood, said Coleman.

Based on an aeroponics system from the Epcot Center in Walt Disney World, each tower has a mineral-rich reservoir at the base, from which water is pumped through the center of the tower, to the top and cascades back down, feeding peppers and eggplants to marigolds and bok choy, along the way.

Set in spun volcanic rock, the plants grow in half the time, with 90 percent less water than the traditional farming model, and without pesticides, beams Coleman.

Customers of the Tower Gardens range from apartment dewellers to chefs at leading restaurants, and, of course, Getty House.

Sharing the excess output of produce from the the Getty garden has evolved into a charity project with the LAMP Community. Coleman and helpers drive most of the Getty harvest—from some 616 herbs, vegetables and edible flowers—to the homeless facility downtown.

“That’s one of the best parts about that garden. Freshly harvested vegetables with all the nutrients are taken to people who need them the most,” said Coleman.

Residential systems require adding a little water to the top of the tower once a week, while commercial systems are automated. Both require pennies-a-day of electricity.

A do-it-yourselfer can get started with one tower of 28 plants for about $50. Or, for $150, customers will be equipped with a fully planted tower plus weekly service visits for one month. The latter option can be continued indefinitely for hands-on help.

Either way, it’s a modern take on an ages-old way of life that is all the rage in Los Angeles: you can pick fresh arugula and lettuce for your salads and kale for your smoothies just a few steps outside your door.

“We’re encouraging people to grow their own food, and we teach them how to do it,” says Coleman.

Visit laurbanfarms.com.

Tags: Getty House, LA Urban Farm, Tower garden

Category: Real Estate

View the original article here

Africa's future? Where food and fodder will be grown in air, using 98% less water – Mail & Guardian Africa

FARMERS across Africa face increasing challenges year in and year out. They have to adhere to planting seasons thrown into turmoil by climate change, are vulnerable to weather variations, the high input costs of farming in terms of fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides and, increasingly, seeds and climate change. 

One young Nigerian who is on a mission to change all this is Samson Ogbole, the founder of Sreach Aeroponics – an organisation which aims to train people on how to build and maintain systems where plants can be grown in the air. 

This means that everything from lettuce and tomatoes can be grown without soil and this can even be done indoors.

In an interview with Mail & Guardian Africa, Samson explained that he was first introduced to this soil-less system at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, where he studied for a year, after which he was taken on as a staffer and put in charge of an aeroponic system. 

“It’s a simple idea”, he said, “in aeroponics, plant roots aren’t in soil instead they’re secured to a support platform and held in place at the stem by foam so that the root system hangs below in an enclosed or semi-enclosed chamber.”

“A pipe, which is connected to a pump and timer, brings nutrients – whether organic or inorganic – dissolved in water and sprays it onto the roots. It’s not a complicated system, which many people think it is, all they need to do is monitor the nutrient to make sure it doesn’t finish!”  

(Diagram/hydroponicpassion.blogspot.com)

“I can teach people how to make their own organic nutrient solution, but for those that prefer inorganic, you have to buy chemicals the way you buy fertilisers.”

Samson explained that there are huge benefits of having plants literally grow in “thin air”, free from soil borne pests and soil pollution. 

The system can reduce water usage by 98%, fertiliser usage by 95%, pesticide usage by 99% and can increase crop yields by 45% to 75%. It also enables faster growth of up to 3 to 5 times faster than conventional growing in soil. Lettuce for instance, in traditional systems, can be grown from seed to harvest in 70 to 90 days. While aeroponics growing would take just 25 to 30 days. Other plants proved to also have fantastic yields as a result of the system include; beans, cucumber, tomatoes, peppers and ginger. 

But it isn’t all rosy. Samson also explained that there are three big limitations and drawbacks to using this system; there needs to be 24 hour electricity (though some are turning to solar energy to overcome this), the technical ability to know how to maintain and set up the system and, if done on a big commercial scale, the initial set up will be expensive. “But no matter how expensive – in the first year your returns are huge”, he said.

Samson’s newly founded company is currently producing custom-built aeroponics systems – made to the specification and space requirements of the client. 

To get an idea of cost he gave the example of a 5m by 1m lettuce aeroponics farm. The total cost for the system is 457,000 Naira ($2,290). 

This is a high cost but the production predictions were impressive. 

A square metre will contain 50 holes which means 50 plants. In this design there are 10 square metres, thus housing a total of 500 plants. In the case of lettuce, every 30 days, 500 plants will be harvested from this aeroponics system. This compared to a traditional farming system in which Samson claims a space of 10 square meters would produce 500 plants after 90 days – 3 times as long. 

How realistic is it to roll this out on a larger scale?

Big aeroponic systems can be made though there are limitations as to what can be grown. Root vegetables can start their growing process in this system but will eventually have to be transferred to soil to become harvest ready. 

However, it has been shown that starting the process with aeroponics is very useful in producing seeds and healthier crop for root vegetables too. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria for example has a project called the Yam improvement for income and Food Security in West Africa (YIIFSWA) which uses aeroponics. The system produce seeds, vine cuttings and mini tubers which they then hope to make readily available and affordable for yam producers in Nigeria and Ghana.

Speaking to Morufat Balogun from the project she said that this has “changed the yam seed system”. The system has improved the “quality of material planted in terms of seed health, vastly increased yields and seen tubers grow vigorously”. 

But it isn’t just food and seeds that can benefit. The aeroponics can also be used to combat one of soil’s greatest adversaries and one of our greatest challenges: climate change.

In an interview with Louis Visser of Qwik Gro aeroponic systems in South Africa, he said that their “[aeroponic] systems are more specifically designed for growing economical livestock fodder 365 days of the year, in a controlled environment, notwithstanding prevailing droughts.” This means that this system provides a consistent source of high quality, nutritious feed regardless of the weather, all year round!

For example, they are now in the process of constructing a feedlot for a 6000 lamb feedlot on 3.5 hectares of land and going to duplicate the same in Cape Town.

Systems like this offer one more option when looking at increasing the adaptive capacity of farmers, communities and governments to respond to the impending impacts of climate change.

View the original article here