Two Ghanaian entrepreneurs have developed an innovative fish and vegetable farming kit that can be used anywhere, by almost anyone.
The solar-powered Aquaponics Hub kit, smart sensor and mobile app, was developed in response to food security challenges aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Engineer Daniel Taylor from Dent Agrisystems, formerly shortlisted for the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, developed the system in collaboration with Lawrencia Kwansah, who studied aquaculture and water resource management.
Aquaponics, is a sustainable food production method that combines aspects of aquaculture or fish farming, with hydroponics – growing plants without soil in nutrient-rich water.
Taylor and Kwansah, were spurred into action when they saw many individuals, farmers and businesses struggling to generate an income because of the pandemic.
"We want people to have food and earn an income no matter where they live or what their level of education is," says Taylor. "The Aquaponics Hub system can be used in rural and urban areas andwas developed so that even a high-school student could use it."
Taylor, who previously developed the Hwesomame smart soil sensor to help farmers improve crop yields and quality, is painfully aware of challenges in farming.
"Farmers struggle with the lack of arable land and water, transporting products, and post-harvest losses diminishing their income. We wanted to build something that solves these problems."
The team has received funding from the UK's Royal Academy of Engineering to provide free training to 250 people during 2021. Training modules will be provided to municipal and district assemblies and NGOs to increase the number of people able to run an aquaponics system.
Aquaponics is a closed system in which water is pumped from fish tanks to plants. The water is nutrient-rich from fish waste. The plants filter nutrients out of the water, simultaneously using them to grow and filter the water. Clean water is pumped back to the fish tanks. No soil is needed for the plants.
The system is solar-powered, which means it is not affected by power outages and can be used in off-grid areas. The kit is available in various sizes depending on your needs and the amount of space available. This solution doesn't require technical expertise and can be used in rural and urban areas by individuals, farmers, restaurants, hotels and boarding schools.
A smart sensor monitors the temperature, pH, oxygen, and nutrient levels in the water. It sends real-time alerts to the kit's owner on the mobile app. The app contains tutorials with information on how to manage and troubleshoot the system. It also contains a digital marketplace where owners can buy and sell vegetables and fish, fish food, seeds, and kit components.
"Aquaponics is often overlooked because people wrongly assume that it's expensive and requires technical skills," says Kwansah. "But aquaponics is less risky than farming because you can control the environment, which ensures high yields. It is also relatively inexpensive and has a high return on investment."
Dent Agrisystems sets up the kit once it has been bought and has various training options on how to manage and commercialise the system. Farmers can arrange to pay the system off in instalments.