I am Beatrice Peter, 28, a graduate with a bachelor’s degree in seed science and technology. I am a member of Kibwezi Hortipreneurs Youth Group (KHYG) formed under the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) youth agribusiness incubation programme in Kenya.
We are hosted at the University of Nairobi Dry-land Research Station in Kibwezi. This station had an abandoned greenhouse complex remaining from previous project strategically placed on the Mombasa/Nairobi commercial corridor.
The group conducts irrigated vegetable farming and fish rearing in semi-arid, lower eastern region (Makueni county). It sits along the spring-fed Kibwezi River and operates in two acres of the farm.
The group has been practising conventional vegetable production (using soil) in greenhouse. This has been characterized by high water usage for irrigation due to dry and extremely high temperature spells often experienced at the region
Due to our current conventional method, there has been a build-up of soil borne pests, diseases and nematodes.
This has resulted to intensive use of chemicals, which are often washed-off to the nearby river when continuous flooding/furrow irrigation is done to supplement drip irrigation. Leaching of nutrients and minerals is another consequence of the same, leading to high use of fertilizer and nutrient supplements.
In order to increase the production per unit area of vegetable coverage, the group intends to use hydroponic farming system in their drip irrigated greenhouses.
Hydroponic technology is the art of growing plants in soilless conditions. It has been used in addressing some of these challenges.
A visit by Prof. Njoka from University of Nairobi and some of his colleagues—initiators of hydroponic fodder in Kenya, enlightened and motivated the group to research more towards the idea of hydroponic vegetable farming.
The simple hydroponic Dutch bucket system appealed to the group for hybrid tomatoes in one of its greenhouse measuring 2,000 m2, with a carrying capacity of up to 2,400 plants.
Seedling production will be set in the nursery, a proportionate mixture of fine volcanic gravel (available around Kibwezi town), pure sand, vermiculate, basal fertilizer and compost manure (vermi-compost) will be made and wetted.
Clean plastic buckets of 40 cm diameter by 60 cm depth with 2 mm diameter reservoir outlet each prepared and placed in greenhouse rows where drips have been fixed.
A small clear pipe (2 mm) will be fixed at the outlet and then connected to the feeder pipes, which will drain excess water to main pipe leading to the collection container.
Having fixed that and drips adjusted to better height ,1/8 bucket will be filled with pure fine volcanic gravel (at the bottom) and the remaining filled with the wet mixture made up to three-quarters.
Seedlings will be transplanted, drips run over the buckets, plants are allowed to grow for a few weeks, then the remaining ¼ filled with the mixture; normal agronomic practices such as fertigation, pruning and trellising will then follow.
This process ensures maximum utilization of fertilizer, water and nutrient supplements by their containment at the plants root zone thus translating to increased yield per plant.
Excess water is then drained back to the system thus avoiding water wastage and reducing some unnecessary production cost.
Pollution will be reduced since most chemicals applied will be contained in the bucket. Weeding will also be reduced as most part will be covered by buckets. The gravel can also be washed and re-used after the crop cycle.
Success and efficiency of this project will be measured in terms of output and return on investment.
In simple calculation a plant of hybrid tomato in these conditions is supposed to yield not less than 10 kg in one cycle (six months).
With average price of USD 0.5. Population of 2,400 plants should thus give not less than USD 12,000. This technology ensures constant production and therefore two cycles can be obtained in one year, translating to USD 24,000 or more per year.
This will serve as a learning ground for the community and small-scale farmers along Kibwezi River who are practicing conventional farming techniques and therefore help reduce water pollution and make it safe for household consumption (reduce risks of some chronic diseases like cancer).
Families around Kibwezi town whose farm is nothing but volcanic rocks will have an avenue to learn on how to put their so called “useless land” into useful form and generate income.
The USD 5,000 will be used as follows:
- Invariables i.e equipment and tools (Dutch buckets, two polythene liners for compost pit lining and PVC pipes) for USD 2,700.
- Variables will include inputs (potting mixture ingredients, hybrid seeds, chemicals, fertilizer and nutrient supplements) costing USD 1,100, transport cost USD 500, labour USD 200 and contingencies USD 500.
Variable costs will be distributed evenly to cover the two cycles in one year.
This is how distribution of activities will be:
- 1st month: procurement of all materials, plant seeds in nursery and set up hydroponic system
- 2nd month: transplant tomato seedlings and carry on all the agronomic practices required.
- 3rd month: agronomic practices will continue and towards the end, first harvest will be done.
- 4th, 5th, 6th months: harvesting and normal agronomic practices will carry on and uprooting, bucket sterilization will be done in the last week of sixth month
- 2nd cycle initiated to carry on from the 7th month to the 12th month (end of year).
Blogpost and picture submitted by Beatrice Peter (Kenya): iitakibwezihortipreneurs[at]gmail.com
The content, structure and grammar are at the discretion of the author only.
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