Hydroponic Farming: A Hidden Solution for the Vulnerable Urban Poor

Amon Makihako, the Executive Director and Co-founder of Hydroponic Farms Uganda (HFU) recalls the day his mother was forced to give away her daughter- his sister, in exchange with bride price such that the family could survive a deadly hunger that had struck the family in the slums of Kinawataka, Mbuya Parish in Nakawa Division of Kampala district.

“Getting food was a tug of war and this forced my mother to marry off my sisters such that we could survive,” said Makihako.

From that day, Makihako vowed that he would never allow another family to go through what they went through and that’s why he changed his 2017 visit to a friend in Sweden into a business idea which has since benefited over 78000 families.

In 2017, Makihako was invited for a visit by his friend Joan, who lives in Sweden which he did in March and stayed there for two weeks.

“While there, I saw hydroponic farms at Joan’s place and asked how they work. Relating to what is going on in Uganda, I realized that these farms can work for us, mainly the population that lives in urban areas like Kampala,” he noted.

Hydroponic farming is a new innovation where farmers grow crops without necessarily using land. It enables people to grow food without soil and natural light, using blocks of porous material where plants grow with the help of artificial lighting such as a low energy source usually a Light-Emitting Diode(LED).

After falling in love with the idea, Makihako’s friend paid for him a six months online course where he acquired skills about hydroponic farms which he says have given smiles to over 78000 families since its inception in 2018.

“At first our major aim was to prevent hunger but now farmers have gone an extra mile to sell the produce to support their families financially, which is very good,” he said.

Farmers express their happiness after a harvest.

Unlike previously when hydroponic farming was expensive, the Ntinda based HFU, simplified it to Ugandans by supplying the hydroponic equipment to all classes of farmers irrespective of whether one is a tenant or landlord and after giving them training on how to operate them.

Makihako says that the equipment cost ranges between Shs 450,000 and Shs 1.5m depending on the type one wants.

“We have, since inception, supplied 80,000 hydroponic equipment and expanded in four major districts of Mukono, Kampala, Wakiso, and Mbarara,” he said.

“We enable women farmers to achieve predictable and highly nutritious yields for vegetables and produce their own animal feed at a limited cost of input. With hydroponics, the farmer is unaffected by seasons and adverse weather conditions, which historically has given rise to severe food insecurity in Uganda and Africa at large,” he added.

He said that they have plans of expanding in other Cities when their funding increases, “Our main target are towns where we think a big population is suffering with food shortage,” he noted.

According to Makihako, the current systems favor the growth of vegetables mainly which include: cabbage, Red paper, Yellow paper, Green paper, and practicing fish farming.

“Some of our clients are selling their harvests in Namugongo streets,” he noted

Major categories of hydroponic systems

According to Makihako, there are three major categories of hydroponic systems; Aeroponic, Aquaponic, and Vegetable systems.

Aeroponic system

Aeroponic systems nourish plants with nothing more than nutrient-laden mist. The concept builds off that of hydroponic systems, in which the roots are held in a soilless growing medium, such as coco coir, over which nutrient-laden water is periodically pumped.

In aeroponics systems, seeds are “planted” in pieces of foam stuffed into tiny pots, which are exposed to light on one end and nutrient mist on the other. The foam also holds the stem and root mass in place as the plants grow.

Aquaponic system

Aquaponic system

Aquaponics is putting fish to work. “It just so happens that the excretion work the fish do is the perfect fertilizer for growing plants. Fish can grow a lot of plants when they get to work,” Makihako chipped in.

“One of the coolest things about Aquaponics is that it mimics a natural ecosystem.

Aquaponics represent the relationship between water, aquatic life, bacteria, nutrient dynamics, and plants that grow together in waterways all over the world,” he further explained.

Taking cues from nature, aquaponics harness the power of bio-integrating these individual components:  Exchanging the waste by-product from the fish as a food for the bacteria, to be converted into a perfect fertilizer for the plants, to return the water in a clean and safe form to the fish. Just like mother nature does in every aquatic ecosystem.

Vegetable system

“We sell complete hydroponic vegetable systems to suit the needs of every individual or community. Vegetables grown hydroponically are generally healthier than their soil-grown counterparts. They receive a balanced diet and are free of soil-borne pests and diseases,” he further explained.

Our super-efficient hydroponic vegetable units, conserve water, and nutrients by preventing evaporation and runoff.

The area required to place a hydroponic vegetable garden is very small and therefore the space requirement is not an important factor in hydroponic gardening. A garden can be set up in spaces as small as one square meter (1m²).

Most family hydroponic gardens are any size between 10 to 20 square meters (m²), but one can establish a bigger garden for commercial operations.

“Aeroponics have microcontroller systems and one can monitor it anywhere using their phone but it is a bit expensive (Shs 3m) so we don’t have it yet here but we have a prototype which we use to explain to farmers,” he emphasized.



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