Feature - issue #5
Where the Leaves Fall talks to John Francis Serwanga, the hydroponics expert at World Food Programme (WFP). John Francis has over 17 years of experience with hydroponics projects, including as hydroponics consultant with WFP Namibia and Zambia. He is currently working with Zambian schools, as part of WFP’s H2Grow programme, to show teachers and pupils how to use hydroponics to grow vegetables to supplement the government’s homegrown school feeding programme.
Where The Leaves Fall: What is hydroponics?
John Francis Serwanga: Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil in a nutrient water solution. It is a climate-smart and cost-efficient solution, using up to 90% less water and 75% less space than traditional methods, while producing crops at faster growth rates.
The method has got a lot of advantages. Because the nutrients are readily available in the water solution, the plants can be planted closer together and they grow fast because there is no competition for nutrients as there is in the earth. For example, here in Zambia, we can plant vegetables and three weeks later we are harvesting.
When I was growing up, I tended to hate agriculture because of the heavy work. Hydroponics has a good advantage over that: it’s smart, there’s no digging and no weeding. It is less labor-intensive in terms of money and time. It reduces the risks of pests, most especially the pests found in the ground, because you are not planting in the ground.
Hydroponics also allows for more controlled and effective use of fertilisers: you are able to measure the exact quantity needed by the plants at all growth stages. The planting is done in a greenhouse, which also gives you control over temperature, humidity, and all the climate conditions.
John Francis Serwanga with students at Kapiri Girls Technical School, which has adopted both hydroponics and grain bag technology. Headteacher Hilda Chilufya states: “The soil around here is sandy. Vegetables would harvest but they weren’t really very healthy or sufficient. There is also a water shortage. With the hydroponics and grain bags the work involved is lighter and the yield is larger.”