Farming without the use of conventional soil
Climate change has reared its ugly head on livestock production by making it increasingly difficult due to lack of pasture and fodder for the animals coupled by the high cost of animal feeds. In the recent years, the country has experienced extensive drought which has affected food production in the country. Therefore, conventional methods of farming have become unreliable in addressing food security.
Hydroponics Kenya is the pioneer initiator of hydroponic farming technology in East and Central Africa. 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. Other products include aeroponic and aquaponic systems. The farmers also access training and demonstration of the hydroponics systems at the company’s offices in Zambezi, Kikuyu, Kiambu County and Nairobi. The company distributes its products to farmers in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania.
Hydroponic farming entails growing crops using mineral nutrient solutions in water thus reducing the need for soil. Their modern and innovative farming technology is resilient to climate change, provides superior nutritional value and faster growth at limited cost input. High value crops such as coloured capsicum, cauliflower, sprouts, lettuce, strawberries among others have proven to give higher yields with this technology.
Peter Chege the founder and CEO established the company in 2002 focusing on supplying farmers with nutritional supplements to enhance animals output. Throughout the years Peter learnt that many farmers incurred high costs for animal fodder, and that the quality of animal fodder was often not satisfactory. To address this problem, in 2013 the company started producing hydroponic systems that enable farmers to grow quality animal feed at low costs, while also providing them with the opportunity of growing all sorts of vegetables apart from tubers.
The company earns revenue through installation of the hydroponics technology and training farmers across Africa. So far, they have trained 5000 farmers, at a cost of Ksh1000 for a group of up to five people. They conduct their own research, market analysis and link farmers to the right markets to sell their produce.
The installation of the technology has been adopted in Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda. Early this year, the government of Nepal had expressed interest in the hydroponics technology and the negotiations are ongoing. Last month the company did an installation in Burkina Faso. The County government has also been supportive to Hydroponics Kenya.
The company has faced a number of challenges. Due to the drought, their expenditure on water has increased. They are however sinking a borehole at their Mai Mahiu site which will ensure continuous supply of water. Uptake of the technology has also been slow. Most of the people willing to take up the technology are young but they lack the capital to invest in the technology. The company is in need of increased capacity in terms of agronomists and technicians. Currently there is only one agronomist serving 1600 clients.
Hydroponics Kenya hopes to feed Africa through hydroponics. As a client of the Kenya Climate Innovation Center (KCIC), the company has benefitted through various services offered by KCIC such as business advisory, access to finance – Proof of Concept Grant provided in 2015 through to 2016. They have been able to get a patent for one of their technologies (fonder). The company has limited resources thus limiting them from visiting their farmers as often as possible in order to track the progress of the used systems.