May 19th, 2018 – Kisumu, Kenya
Author: Noah Kozminski
The Inakua team heads out of town to check on their local hydroponics tower installation at a friend’s home. “Inakua is working to use low-cost hydroponics to reduce food insecurities in East Africa. The system allows farmers to grow food, no matter how erratic the rainy season,” explains team member Jessica Novis. The team stops along the way, picking up a few seedlings for planting. Nestled in a corner of a gated housing complex, Inakua’s hydroponics tower system stands some eight feet tall, made up of a vertical pipe holding a variety of vegetables, seated in a large drum of water, a few wires linking it to a nearby solar panel. The team reacts with excitement — their vegetables have grown significantly since the day before.
Getting to work, the team insert seedlings into planting cups and repair some leaks. While hydroponics towers are generally used in greenhouses, the team is testing the system’s performance in Kisumu’s equatorial environment. Nutrient-rich water pumped through the hydroponics system can speed up the natural growth cycle, says Jessica. “The plants actually grow much larger because they don’t have to dig through the soil to find nutrition — it’s given right to them.”
The hydroponics tower is made primarily of locally sourced parts, and while some components (circuit breakers, solar panel, etc.) were brought from the US, the team says that equivalent, low-cost parts can be found in the Kisumu area. Having these parts locally available is an instrumental part of the venture.
“A big issue with past hydroponics ventures has been scalability,” says teammate Ellis Driscoll. Where earlier efforts have had high up-front costs and multi-week training periods, Inauka is taking a different approach. The instructions for the hydroponics tower have been reduced to only three pages — a change, Ellis says, that will greatly reduce barriers to entry for local farmers.
Inakua is planning on gauging the response of local farmers to the hydroponics tower, which, along with their other research into the tower’s environmental performance and a more streamlined instructional process, will guide their efforts going forward.