Aquaponics farmer Moabi Mmualefhe strongly believes that with insight, the modern farming method that he uses can easily grow any of the 22 horticultural vegetables currently banned for import.
Having recently won Best Business Creation under the Total Energies StarterUpper Challenge, the young farmer intends to grow leafy greens and herbs using aquaponics at his enterprise, Kubuentle Aquaponics. Mmualefhe explained aquaponics as a modern method of agriculture that combines aquaculture, which is growing fish, and hydroponics, which refers to growing of plants without soil. Instead of growing crops in soil, aquaponics relies on use of fish waste to provide crops with nutrition, with the used water thereafter recirculating to the fish tank as clean water.
“It is suitable even for urban areas because it is conducive to growing large amounts of produce in a small space because it is in a controlled environment,” he said. “Aquaponics allows for all year round produce. Significantly, aquaponics is about growing produce organically without use of pesticides or herbicides and uses 90 percent less water than traditional horticulture.”
Introduced to the method “by mistake”, Mmualefe said he came across aquaponics after failing to develop the family farmland loaned to him. A friend Having noticed his inability to raise funds to fence up the land, debush and drill a borehole, someone led him to aquaponics. He had established that there was a man in Gaborone who was running a semi-commercial aquaponics farm in his backyard. This man was soon turned Mmualefhe’s mentor and the two have since collaborated in a pilot aquaponics project as a test run for their knowledge. The rest, as they say, is history.
Through Kubuentle Aquaponics, Mmualefhe is determined to prove that large scale farming can be done in an urban area because the method is efficient, sustainable and highly productive. The greatest advantage is being in close proximity to clients like supermarkets, restaurants and walk-in customers.
According to Mmualefhe Batswana are becoming increasingly conscientious about what they eat and are leaning more towards organically grown food. But there is another, if equally laudable, ambition. “Our aim at Kubuentle Aquaponics is to help solve our country’s high food import bill by growing leafy greens and herbs for the local market,” he told The Business Weekly & Review. “The ban on the horticultural produce is a rare opportunity for Kubuentle Aquaponics to participate in locally grown produce for the local market. With large-scale aquaponics farming, there can even be adequate produce for export.”
Mmualefhe believes that aquaponics can be the solution for problems of the agricultural sector like shortage of land and scarcity of water and funding. For many Batswana looking to venture into horticulture, the large financial outlay required for fencing, debushing and sinking a borehole is an obstacle. In this young farmer’s view, the capital needed to fence up a 10-hectare farm can be used to buy a backyard aquaponics system that can bring good income all year round.
“Being allocated land, including that for farming, has proven to be nearly impossible for the ordinary Motswana,” he pointed out. “We do not all have the financial strength to buy farms or to drill boreholes or find good water to irrigate vegetables. Modern agriculture like aquaponics permits farming literally anywhere, including in towns and cities. It is a great solution to the many stumbling blocks of lack of land, water and finance.”
But his aquaponics project has not been without challenges because Mmualefhe met numerous rejections from financiers when seeking funding. He admits that it was partly because of his own inadequate knowledge of aquaponics, although bureaucracy and fear of the unknown among critical decision-makers were also a serious stumbling block.
“I will always be grateful for having entered the Total Start Upper Challenge because Total Energies Botswana has allowed us at Kubuentle Aquaponics to finally begin the goal of setting up an urban aquaponics farm by assisting us financially and with mentoring,” he said. “I believe the challenges and rejections of six years were a way of testing my patience but it afforded me the time to keep learning and refining my knowledge of aquaponics.”