According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the world population will reach 9.1 billion by 2050. To feed this number of people, global food production will need to grow by 70%. For Africa, which is expected to be home to about 2 billion people, farm productivity must accelerate at a faster rate.
Automation in Africa’s farming is fast rising. Aeroponic farming is one such example. Could this be what Africa needs to achieve food security? Nigeria is fast catching up on this modern trend of farming.
Samson Ogbole is the Co-founder of PS- Nutraceuticals, a farmer, Biochemist, and Nutrigenomics. He sheds more light on aeroponic farming.
What is aeroponic farming? When and why did you venture into it?
Aeroponics is a type of soilless farming which involves growing plants with the roots in a misty environment, without any medium (liquid, solid or semisolid).
I was fortunate to work with Yam Improvement for Income and food security in West Africa (YIIFSWA-I) project, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan under the leadership of Dr. Nobert Maroya, where I got introduced to this, I was super excited with the benefits it entails and the solution it proffers. 3 years after, I co-founded a company with Mr. Okocha Jnr – where we use it to grow so many indigenous plants.
How does this automated mode of farming operate?
The system has 2 main parts – the support system which holds or supports the plants and the nutrient system which contains all the nutrient requirement of the plant in a solution. Thus the nutrient we use is soluble in water to ensure the plant roots can absorb easily.
The nutrient-laden solution is sent to the roots of the plants with the help of either misters (foggaponics) or sprinklers (Aeroponics) – this is basically a difference in the circumference or diameter of the water droplets which would affect the finesse or tininess of the roots of the plants and also play a role in absorption of nutrient. The feeding of the plant is not continuous, it is timed depending on the type of plant, variety, age and weather conditions which would affect how quick it takes the roots to dry out between intervals of spraying. The solution is recycled as whatever has not been used returns to the nutrient reservoir to be continually reused.
What are the benefits of Aeroponic farming compared to other conventional methods of farming?
1. You can grow any time of the year- like I always say “food production should not be seasonal because hunger is not seasonal”.
2. There is reduced use of fertilizer and also the chances of fertilizer abuse are almost zero.
3. No pesticides, insecticides or others which are harmful to the farmer, the consumer and the environment thus this is healthier for the three tiers of food production – the farmer, the consumer and the environment
4. Plants grown in aeroponics are proven to have higher levels of phytochemicals and antioxidants compared to soil grown. We are currently conducting research to prove this.
5. With the aging farming population as the average age of the African farmer at 60 years, this technology is much more attractive to youths, it is dignifying and thus bringing back some youths to the farm. In addition, because it is automated it is not as ‘hard labor” demanding as conventional farming but rather requires more of the intellect.
6. In a time where AI and technology are driving other sectors, this fits right into the current model of the world to have a food production technology that is smart and able to run with the astronomical population growth.
7. We are able to maximize on a small area with vertical farming, and we are able to bring farms to the city through urban farming and this goes a long way to give more yield per land area as well as circumvents a few of the mitigating factors against conventional farming such as storage and transport.
Is there a difference between hydroponics and aeroponic farming in terms of implementation?
Hydroponics is either using substrate/medium (coco coir, perlite, vermiculite, peat moss, etc.) or non-substrate/ medium (water) as a means to grow but in aeroponics, the roots of the plants are exposed in the air, no medium is used.
How can you rate the reception and success of aeroponic farming in Nigeria from time of conception?
A few existing farmers and many youths are picking it up at varying scale. It is the basic method used by seed yam producers in Nigeria to produce the clean yam seedlings. Consumers are no longer opposed to eating products from the system because they understand it is not diabolical or against nature.
Any shortcomings in this method of farming?
Like any other type of farming, aeroponics has its shortcomings. It is capital intensive to initiate like any technology-driven system.
It also requires good knowledge to manage the system effectively.
Food security is at stake in most African Countries. How can automated farming methods drive Africa towards food security?
Automated farming will lure youths into agriculture as we need more hands, it will increase efficiency in efforts and production and thus increase yields. To do without automated farming is to depend on other nations to feed us as a continent.