Growing vegetables (almost) without water
A village in northern Kenya shows how farming can succeed even in times of drought – thanks to hydroculture and solar energy.
Crisp, fresh vegetables despite a shortage of water – how is that possible? Even with its central European climate, German summers are becoming increasingly dry. In June 2023, it is estimated that rainfall will be just half the required volume. The challenge this presents for farmers is many times greater in the dry north of Kenya. Arthur Shadrack of the Turkana Basin Institute (TBI) has introduced a dozen villagers in the Turkana region to the secrets of hydroculture. This method of cultivation not only saves a considerable amount of water, it also requires no soil. Fresh vegetables produced by this method are now available in the village of Ileret for the first time.
Climate change is having a major impact in the Horn of Africa. In 2022, after four failed rainy seasons, the drought here was particularly severe. The little groundwater available is extremely salty and unusable for field crops. Despite this, from October to December alone, the villagers harvested almost 900 kilograms of vegetables – spinach, kale, tomatoes, amaranth, lettuce, cabbage, beetroot, chillies and watermelons – from just a relatively small area of 800 square metres.
Drinking water for humans and vegetables
The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH supported the TBI on behalf of the German Development Ministry (BMZ) and the European Union (EU). Thanks to a solar pump and a filtration system also powered by solar energy, the brackish groundwater from a borehole more than eight kilometres away can now be purified at the institute. In the first 18 months, the TBI has produced around 3.8 million litres of drinking water for use by the village community and vegetable farmers. As part of the cooperation, the project built greenhouses and financed six months of training for villagers. ‘Now they do everything by themselves,’ says their delighted trainer Shadrack.
Ebare Lomeri, one of the farmers trained in hydroculture, demonstrates how the principle works. Volcanic rock and coconut fibre waste are mixed in a plant pot, seeds are planted and the pot is inserted into a tube with water circulating through it. This means none of the precious resource goes to waste. Lomeri manages the greenhouse on her own. Vegetables are an important food, she says: ‘They’re good for the children and for our health.’ Joseph Koyaan Achinya has also learned from Shadrack: ‘We can’t spend all our time waiting for someone to bring us food a couple of times a year,’ he says, adding: ‘Hydroculture has given us great hope.’