Aquaponics and Hydroponics: A solution for Mitigating the Elnino Drought in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is facing an unprecedented drought crisis this year which has resulted in severe water shortages both in urban and rural areas leading to agricultural challenges. In such a dire situation, innovative farming techniques like hydroponics and aquaponics provide a ray of hope. These methods offer efficient water utilization and sustainable food production, making them potential solutions to Zimbabwe’s drought-related agricultural woes and food insecurity.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed a strong Elnino event occurring between October 2023 and March 2024.

“This event is expected to have adverse effects on rainfall from October 2023 to March 2024, potentially leading to drought conditions in Zimbabwe. Anticipated outcomes include a delayed onset of rainfall and prolonged dry spells, which could significantly impact food production and disrupt the food supply chain.”

Now as dire as this sounds and yes it is bad. There is no use crying over spilt milk. The best way to deal with any tragic or difficult situation is to find innovative alternatives and adapt. How can Zimbabweans adapt to the drought they are facing? How can they alleviate food insecurity and emerge victorious in the face of a crisis? Through Aquaponics and Hydroponics. Sounds fancy right but it’s not. Not with the right information and education.

Hydroponics: Optimizing and Saving Water
Hydroponics
An image of a hydroponics project by FOCUS Zimbabwe in Waterfalls, Harare. 

Hydroponics is a soilless farming technique that involves cultivating plants in nutrient-rich water solutions. In a water-scarce country like Zimbabwe, hydroponics optimizes water consumption by utilizing up to 90% less water compared to traditional agriculture methods. This efficient use of water also prevents wastage and reduces reliance on natural rainfall. By controlling the nutrient supply directly to the plants’ roots, hydroponics increases crop yield and accelerates growth, allowing farmers to produce an abundance of fresh produce regardless of rainfall patterns. The best thing about this farming method is it does not require a lot of space. You can do it at your veranda, garden or anywhere in the house where you have excess space.

Hydroponics
An example of how the project is supposed to look like. Image Credit: FOCUS Zimbabwe

A good example of how hydroponics can empower communities is the project that was done by FOCUS Zimbabwe a self-sustaining food cultivation initiative founded by a seed grant-awarded Team Zimbabwe Techwomen 2022 fellows. Through hydroponics they managed to empower children in orphanages to grow organic foods by empowering them through hands on skills and training. This proves that with the right training and education hydroponics not only alleviates food insecurity but can empower Zimbabweans with entrepreneurial skills and healthy eating habits.

 

FOCUS
Some of the produce from the FOCUS hydroponic project
Aquaponics: A Sustainable Farming System
Aquaponics
An image showing aquaponics farming system, Image source: Earth.Org

Aquaponics combines hydroponics with fish farming in a harmonious system. Fish are raised in tanks, and their waste becomes a nutrient source for the plants. In turn, the plants filter and purify the water for the fish. Aquaponics significantly reduces water consumption compared to traditional farming methods, as water is recirculated and conserved in a closed-loop system. By integrating fish and plant cultivation, aquaponics provides protein from fish and fresh vegetables, ensuring a diverse and sustainable food supply during drought conditions. This means that one does not have to wait for the rainy season in November to be able to farm. As long as you have all the requirements you can practice aquaponics, improve your diet and earn an extra income for yourself and your family. Talk about killing multiple birds with one stone.

Reducing Pressure on Water Resources

With hydroponics and aquaponics, crops can be grown in urban areas, reducing pressure on rural communities and scarce water resources. The general populace doesn’t necessarily have to go and buy crops in the rural areas or wait for major farms to supply the Grain Marketing Board. Anyone can grow their own food and help improve their lives through sustainable means. These farming techniques also eliminate the need for vast expanses of fertile land, making them suitable for urban and peri-urban environments. By utilizing vertical growing systems, hydroponics maximizes land use efficiency, enabling farmers to produce large volumes of crops within small spaces. This reduction in land requirement lessens deforestation risks and promotes the conservation of Zimbabwe’s precious natural resources.

Climate Change Resilience

Hydroponics and aquaponics have inherent climate change resilience. These methods minimize the reliance on unpredictable rainfall, allowing for year-round production and consistent crop yields. By reducing the need for traditional soil cultivation, hydroponics protects against soil erosion induced by extreme weather events. Additionally, these systems can be integrated with renewable energy sources, further enhancing their sustainability and reducing Zimbabwe’s carbon footprint.

How can Zimbabweans adopt these farming techniques?

First and foremost would be education. Hydroponics and aquaponics require skilled personnel and in-depth knowledge of agriculture. The civic society and government could introduce skills workshops to equip citizens with the required skills and empower them through funded projects. This in turn not only benefits the the general populace at large but the country as it will boost the agriculture sector which is the pillar of our economy and improve food security. The climate also benefits as well since there will be less cutting down of trees, land degradation and soil erosion which is all essential in mitigating climate change.

Navigating the water and Electricity Issues in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe faces frequent water and power cuts and these are essential when conducting hydroponics. The best way to navigate these issues is to first assess your environment and work accordingly. How many times a month do you get water in your area? How do you deal with power cuts? Those are the most important questions. The best news is you can use your laundry water after filtration. You can also use the water that you dishes with and this is a norm nowadays; fill in containers when water is up once or twice a week. Hydroponics doesn’t require a lot of water so you can be good with just two tanks allocated to your project. Then when it comes to electricity one can opt for solar power for pumps which can act as alternative power to help sustain the costs of electricity and power cuts.

Hope for the future?

In the face of Zimbabwe’s persistent drought crisis, hydroponics and aquaponics can emerge as innovative solutions capable of revolutionizing the agricultural sector. By optimizing water usage, diversifying food production, and minimizing reliance on productive land, these methods might offer hope for farmers and food security in the country. Additionally, the climate change resilience and environmental sustainability offered by hydroponics and aquaponics contribute to long-term agricultural stability. Embracing these modern farming practices can help Zimbabwe mitigate the effects of drought, ensure food security for its population, and pave the way for a more sustainable and resilient future.

So, do you still think there is no solution to the elnino drought and that the situation is as dire? As stated before there is a solution to every tragedy and a light at the end of the “Zimbabwean drought tunnel.”

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