In modern agriculture, you innovate or stagnate.
That’s why Peter Chege, CEO of Hydroponics Kenya, quickly picked up on new technology when he visited the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture (GFIA) in Abu Dhabi last spring. As the saying goes, it’s all about having a better mousetrap, or in this case, the Florida-based Responsive Drip Irrigation (RDI) had a gee-whiz system called “GrowStream” that complimented Chege’s pioneering hydroponics.
Before too many weeks passed, Chege’s company, was not only using the innovation in Kenya but walked away with the distribution rights to five neighboring East and Central African countries.
The irrigation innovation Chege chose to partner with went on to win the top award for innovation at the GFIA event.
I want to do my part in meeting the food crisis in Africa where farming is often difficult due to poor conditions and the growling number of refugees
“It’s all about innovators helping innovators,” said Chege. “GrowStream had an efficient system that used less water and was applied when the plants themselves indicated they needed water.”
Chege’s own hydroponic innovations won funding and technical assistance from the Securing Water for Food (SWFF), a program backed by USAID, and the governments of South Africa, Sweden, and the Netherlands. It is of global importance that answers be found to a problem becoming increasingly critical, given changing weather patterns. It’s estimated that by 2050, the planet will have nine billion people, up from seven billion.
“The problem is we will only have sufficient, year-around useable water for a third that number in 30 years,” said Dr. Ku McMahan, the senior team lead at USAID of SWFF. “But this is what the SWFF effort is all about—working with innovators worldwide to grow more food with less water.”
Currently, Chege says his hydroponics systems save farmers up to 80 percent in water usage. The GrowStream technology will make the application of water even more efficient. “We were struggling with irrigation, and using a pumping system with a timer. With this system, you don’t need a pump, and there is no need to recycle the water,” he said.
GrowStream requires ultra-low water pressure for optimal performance. A raised water tank can effectively generate sufficient pressure for the system to work. RDI traveled to Kenya to work with Chege and his team, training them and implementing various installations.
“After a short time, we are already seeing signs of plant health and improvement,” said Chege.
RDI explains the system this way: GrowStream uses an understanding of plant physiology and organic chemistry to create a symbiotic relationship between plant root, soil, and water. When crops and plants need water and nutrients, they emit root exudates that allow them to uptake what they need.
“Plant variety, stages of growth and development, and weather conditions all contribute to how much water and nutrients each plant root demands,” said Chege. “Like a reservoir, the system allows each and every plant to draw what it needs in water and nutrients.”
Chege is convinced his discovery of the RDI system will aid in the scale up of his business, and, because it is so exportable, he looks forward to expanding to other African countries.
The Kenyan agricultural chemist is an excellent example of entrepreneurs who have received a boost in their businesses from the SWFF program due to their ideas and determination.
Chege sees his mission as not just turning a profit—which is important to stay in business—but also to perform a social function of feeding his people. “I want to do my part in meeting the food crisis in Africa where farming is often difficult due to poor conditions and the growling number of refugees,” he said.
While the RDI system works with traditional farming as well as with hydroponics where the soil is not a factor, Chege chose the hydroponics route due to its versatility and water savings.
“Hydroponic pipes can be stacked several meters vertically or horizontally at any length,” he said. “Or, it can be as small as one needs. It can be maintained in the time it takes to sweep a house. Growing time and harvesting time are greatly reduced.”
Chege’s avowed goal is this: “I want to feed Africa, and for every household to have a hydroponics system to grow vegetables and fruits for themselves and also for selling in the market.”
USAID, Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and the Governments of The Netherlands and South Africa invested $34 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