Changing Marketing Strategy Boosts Hydroponics Africa Results

Peter Chege determined early on in his marketing of Hydroponics Africa Limited in Kenya that one size doesn’t fit all when promoting an innovative business to aid farmers to grow crops efficiently.

Initially, the agriculture chemist felt sure that the television he watched nightly would reach the greatest number of people in demonstrating that hydroponics was the future of agriculture in Africa.

While hydroponics is a technique used a thousand years ago with references back to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Floating Gardens of China, its modern use is rather recent.

The advantages of hydroponics couldn’t be adequately communicated in a 30 or 60-second broadcast. Farmers had to be walked through the process step by step and shown its benefits.

Farmers are accustomed to drenching the ground and plants with water. However, in East Africa, the climate is semi-arid, and water in some places is a precious unlimited resource.

With hydroponics, the consumption of water can be reduced by as much as 90 percent and recycled. Additionally, nutrients added to the water can be more easily controlled. Since earth is not used, soil-related diseases are completely written off.

“We started out using television and print media to deliver our messages,” said Chege. “However, after six months, we determined that it was too expensive and was not effective with our potential customers.”

One advantage of hydroponics is that women—with a traditional role of managing a garden—can maintain a system with little effort.

Strategists from the Securing Water for Food (SWFF) program came in to consult on the company’s marketing plan. SWFF is a joint effort to help fund innovators and is sponsored by USAID and the governments of Sweden, South Africa, and the Netherlands, to advise on the project.

“We changed directions,” said Chege. “We began relying on teaching others how best to tell our story and reach out to farmers individually and in small groups. Word of mouth travels.”

The change in strategy has seen dramatic developments. In the first year, there were 525 hydroponic installations; the second saw 1,155, and this year, the target is 2,550.

“We feel confident we will surpass our target,” said Chege. “The technical assistance from SWFF was instrumental in jump-starting and scaling up our company operations.”

Another benefit, according to Chege, was that the more success and impact they had, the more free media they received, with various publications and broadcast outlets wanting to interview them about hydroponics.

“The money we received from SWFF was incredibly helpful,” said Chege. “But just as helpful was the technical assistance we had to make us run better, sell more effectively, and effectively plan for the future and our expansion strategy.”

“Another area in which SWFF was instrumental was in the field of financial planning, allowing us to be better equipped to forecast for months and years ahead,” said Chege.

“We were able to create appropriate budgets, work plans, and goals and keep our eyes on the horizon and not just at our feet. We are in the process of executing a scale-up distribution strategy with the help of SWFF which will go a long way to increase our distribution points and ultimately our sales,” said Chege.

Hydroponic farming utilizes less space in that vertical pipes can extend upward several meters or more. Horizontal ones can be stacked skyward and be of any length. Production is guaranteed all year round since its independent of rain-fed production.

Additionally, growing time and harvesting is greatly reduced, allowing an expedited market turn-around and earlier return. Harvesting itself is more convenient.

One advantage of hydroponics is that women—with a traditional role of managing a garden—can maintain a system with little effort.

Or, as Chege puts it, “Just a few minutes each day—about the time it takes to sweep a floor.”

 

USAID, Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and the Governments of The Netherlands and South Africa invested $35 million in Securing Water for Food (SWFF) to promote science and technology solutions that enable the production of more food with less water and/or make more water available for food production, processing, and distribution.

This story was developed through the SWFF Social Impact Storytelling Initiative which was established to document innovator journeys and social impact as they work to improve the way water is being used for agriculture. #socialimpact #innovation #agriculture #water #socialimpactstorytellinginitiative