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Climate-smart farming in Kenya yields success and many more tomatoes

  Aug 28, 2013
 

Climate change poses a significant threat to farmers and to the sustainability of their output. According to optimistic lower-end projections of temperature rise, a changing climate may reduce cereal yields globally by as much as 10 to 20 percent by the 2050s in the absence of adaptation.

Climate-smart agriculture offers real hope. For starters, it is about increasing farm productivity in an environmentally and socially sustainable way. It is about strengthening farmers’ resilience to climate change, and reducing agriculture’s climate imprint by curbing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing carbon storage, including in the soil. Climate-smart agriculture relies on the limitless ingenuity of farmers, and includes proven techniques such as mulching, and developing drought or flood tolerant crops to meet the demands of a changing climate.

Mr. Peter Chege from Kenya has such an ingenious mind. An analytical chemist by profession, Mr. Chege quit a lucrative job with a pharmaceutical company in 2002 and set up his own investment — Minerals and Allied Ltd. And for nearly a decade, the company manufactured animal feed.

However, two years ago, frustrated by the low quality of raw grain that he received from his suppliers, Mr. Chege set out to develop a more efficient way of growing the cereals that are often used in making animal feed in Kenya. This is how he came across hydroponic technology.

Hydroponics is a method of growing crops using mineral nutrient solutions in water and without soil. Although hydroponics relies primarily on water, the system is efficient in managing the resource. Studies have indicated that hydroponics systems are at least 10 times more efficient in water usage in comparison to field farming.

The faster maturity rates of plants grown hydroponically have been attributed to the fact that the plants do not have to expend a lot of energy rooting out nutrients from the soil. Additionally, 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.Since he started installing the hydroponics systems last year, Mr. Chege says he has built 60 sheds around the country. Chege has moved his business a notch higher – he now builds hydroponic systems for interested farmers. He has so far installed well over 70 systems in Kenya and across the borders in Uganda and soon in Rwanda. Farmers are interested in the higher and quicker yields for animal feed. With the hydroponic system, it takes between five and seven days for the barley to grow to about 30 centimeters, the size at which many farmers harvest it to feed their cattle. In conventional farming, it would take weeks for the barley to grow to the same size.

Although most of the interest has been from cattle farmers looking for a cheap alternative to commercial feed, he says that demand for the systems to grow vegetables has been on the rise. With the support from Kenya Climate Innovation Center (CIC) an initiative supported by infoDev / World Bank, and the first in a global network of CICs being launched by infoDev’s Climate Technology Program (CTP), Mr. Chege is now moving to the next level.

He is among the over 40 entrepreneurs being incubated at the Kenya Climate Innovation Center. The CIC has provided him with business and technical expertise and mentorship to equip him with the skills and knowledge he need to turn appropriate technologies into viable business. The CIC is also helping him with legal matters such as guidance on intellectual property rights (IPR).

On his small plot of land in Kikuyu, Peter Chege grows tomatoes, barley, lettuce, and strawberries on a reservoir of nutrients in water and without soil. By using his own hydroponics technology, he has eliminated the need to use soil, and has gotten exponentially 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.

The hydroponic technology is not Mr Chege’s invention but has been adapted to the situation in Kenya. It has been practiced for hundreds of years across the world. In modern-day agriculture, hydroponics has proven particularly successful in Australia and the United States. However, Mr Chege is hoping that his efforts to domesticate hydroponics and customize it for the average Kenyan farmer will soon bear results and that it will become commonplace across the country.

For more information about the work of the Kenya Climate Innovation Center, please see: http://kenyacic.org/devs/



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