Producing more food with less water
In a nutshell
Sub-Saharan Africa has recently experienced below-average rainfall due to climate change, resulting in below-average food supplies. Nearly 70% of the water taken from rivers and groundwater goes into agricultural irrigation. At the same time, demand for protein and fresh produce is rising within Sub-Saharan Africa’s population, which the United Nations expects to increase from 1.2 billion today to 2.5 billion by 2050. As traditional farming methods depend on reliable rainfall, other approaches are needed to avert famine.
Farmers in Zambia are unable to consistently deliver fresh high-quality produce due to poor irrigation, pests and limited access to adequate storage. Moreover, while fish is an important source of protein for most Zambians, annual capture fisheries’ output per person declined from 11.4 kg in the 1970s to 6.4 kg in 2003.
Applicable in horticulture as well as aquaculture, aquaponics can deliver high-quality crops year-round as well as better yields than field-based farming. It also uses as much as 50% less water as drip irrigation systems and is independent of rainfall. The technique brings production close to markets and eliminates water loss to soil, making it an ideal alternative to traditional farming in arid regions. Clearwater Farms uses aquaponics for synergistic production of horticulture as well as fish. The enterprise buys from smallholders or cooperatives, helping them generate income and access local markets, and then sells to markets, hotels and restaurants.
In this project supported by the Swiss Re Foundation, Clearwater Farms constructed a training and reference site for aquaponic fish and vegetable production close to Lusaka, Zambia. The whole farm is run sustainably using solar energy to power the aquaponics and refrigeration.
Among the project’s achievements:
- Clearwater Farms demonstrated that an aquaponics farm can be run consistently, and aquaponically raised fish and vegetables sold, in Zambia.
- A packing house and a cold storage facility were built to process farm produce.
- Local residents were trained not only to manage the aquaponics, but also to solve problems that arise and to maintain the system.
- Construction, operations and other training materials were produced.
- The project contributed to increased interest in and awareness of aquaponic farming countrywide, with third parties pursuing it in Lusaka, Siavonga and Copperbelt.
- Clearwater Farms found a local entrepreneur to adapt its vision for aquaponics and out-grower farming and to support further development.
Clearwater Farms continues to operate the farm and to run training courses for locals as well as visitors from abroad. The has also begun pursuing other revenue-generating activities at the farm, such as production of essential oil crops (eg lemongrass, basil and oregano) using sustainable techniques.