Hydroponics is a method of growing crops in water rather than on soil. In this technique, plant growth and productivity is controlled by the type and amount of nutrients added to the water.
Although history suggests it has been applied to varying extents in parts of the world since the olden times, hydroponics farming is a fairly new practice in Kenya.
The technique credited for greater efficiency is an exciting new way to increase animal fodder and thus dairy production, especially during this dry season.
Besides growing fodder, the technology enables farmers to achieve predictable yields for vegetables. With this system, the farmer is unaffected by seasons, adverse weather conditions or climate change, which have all given rise to severe food insecurity in Africa.
According to Hydroponics Kenya founder Peter Chege, the technology offers a valid alternative to growing crops, presenting agricultural opportunities even in places where soil is scarce or is not agriculturally productive.
“Using soil may be inefficient as plants waste a lot of energy to search for the nutrients from the soil, resulting in delayed maturity,” said Chege.
He added that hydroponics system allows fodder and vegetable crops to grow faster.
The method promotes greater efficiency in nutrient consumption by the crops, leading to higher yields in shorter periods when compared to traditional methods farming.
Fodder yields from a hydroponics farm is said to be highly nutritious and can replace conventional grains in feeding livestock.
The high nutrition value of the fodder improves livestock health.
By using this technique, one can grow fodder in just seven days as opposed to 12 weeks, and vegetables 30 per cent faster than the ones grown on soil.
Plants grown this way have a balanced supply of air, water and nutrients. This ensures they reach full genetic potential in terms of growth rate and productivity.
Hydroponics give farmers greater control over the growing conditions of crops. As such, production can be timed more effectively to satisfy market demands.
Since the plants are more robust, they are more resistant to pests and diseases.
The water used in hydroponics must be controlled. Crop Nutrition Laboratory Services Ltd (CROPNUTS), is among various labs offering testing services and gives guidance on water use efficiency for hydroponics farmers.