Technology; The future of Agriculture and Moving Away From Soil.

Hydroponics
Hydroponics, a modern vertical farming method of farming very key in ensuring food security. Photo Courtesy of iAfrica.com

There has been a loud outcry over hunger that struck the Northern part of Kenya. Whereas the debate seems to be about whether any person has died due to the hunger effects, I believe the debate ought to be more about how we can abate future calamities like these. It disappoints I know when the tale recurs year in year out especially in the age of technological advancement. This is due to the fact that we have a lot of data at our disposal together with AI, IoT, robotics, block chain technologies et cetera.

Almost a decade since the implementation of the county governments in Kenya, still the full benefits are yet to be reaped by the citizens of those counties. Issues to do with hunger could have been mapped long time ago and every possible data available from past climate and weather trends, water sources, amounts used, agricultural produce and potential analyzed. And with such knowledge, counties could have planned long time ago for such eventualities as hunger and water shortages.

As we struggle with the issues of food shortages in some counties at the moment, much surprise is yet to come especially when rains come. Those same places will be in the news for reasons of flooding. Unfortunately over 85% of the rain water from the wet seasons goes down to waste in our country. This is despite having qualified innovators whom I believe know what could be done to salvage such situations. Due to negligence and these smart individuals being sidelined while the tumbocrats plunge their teeth into public resources, the story remains the same all the years.

For example water pans have been with us for ages now. Underground water storage is an old technology which we could have been exploited fully by now or even surface water storage methods such as the pans. When Singapore was planning for their future almost over a century in advance, they understood what water meant for that secure future. They developed ‘artificial lake(s)’ and made sure that there was optimum means of directing rain water to these open water storage sources and they succeeded massively in this. Israel understood this too years back which has proved to be very helpful.

Well, it seems our leaders had thought the same but because selfishness crowds their judgment, we only hear of billions being lost in mega corruption deals involving dams and which I believe could have been of so much value in such times as these. Water is very important not just as a means of human and plant survival but also as an alternative to soil.

This technique of alternating water solution for soil is proving very effective and is gaining traction among modern agricultural enthusiasts as they explore ways of moving away from horizontal to vertical farming. At the centre of this is technology application of such innovations as robotics, artificial intelligence and Internet of Things. Coupling hydroponics and technology is becoming a very common practice for feeding the world.

Singapore, China, Japan and the US are leading the world in these areas. Besides the usual mechanical and design technology which is obvious, sensor technologies are incorporated to monitor such aspects as humidity, temperature, nutrient concentration in the media and amount of water all geared towards optimizing plant growth as much as possible.

In most farming, soil is used as media for nutrient holding and secondary as a means for anchorage. It was long discovered that for other plants, soil could be comfortably replaced with nutrient solution and the growth time is then undercut at times by 90% of the time. Quality as well as health of the produce has been found to be high and also standardized. Something hard to achieve effectively and efficiently when using traditional methods.

In modern technologies, fluorescent lamps are used as alternative sources of sunlight though they are used alternately at times. In this alternate way, pulley systems are employed hence the term rotating farms. Computer controlled systems are installed to ensure plants get the precise nutrient concentration needed. This ensures precision which in turn helps hasten plant growth.

Vegetables, herbal plants and some strain of spices do well with hydroponics. Also fodder such as barley does very well with this form of agricultural technology.

In Kenya, I discovered most recently of one lady who has successful employed hydroponics in Kiambu. Hope Wanjiru uses this technology to do farming for vegetables and dressings. Peter Chege was also brought to the limelight in 2013 while using hydroponics to grow his tomatoes, barley, vegetables in his farm in Kikuyu. For Mr. Chege, barley took about 5-7days to mature when using hydroponics as opposed to several weeks when using traditional methods. This thus ensures a steady supply of feed to his animals all the time.

From the last century, farming evolved from open farming to use of green houses. Greenhouses massively helped and over time, advancements have been made to make them more effective and efficient. The future now lies in us turning our farms to food factories if we are to say goodbye to hunger and poverty.

In futuristic farms, technology will mean everything to their massive success and this will be dependent on big data. So as the hunger crisis strikes harder on us, we need to understand how much water we use, amount of rain we receive per season, number of people per square kilometer and projected growth annually so that planning can be done effectively. When our facts are right, every individual in the chain ends up being catered for.

To achieve this, we need leaders who are true to their oaths and have the interests of the people in their hearts. It is unfortunate that the people we choose eat the pie on our behalf instead of all of us sharing the pie. Unless this changes, stories of hunger and deaths will be a tale of every century to come and we will continue living in denial of this fact.

The future is promising though, we have the capacity to leapfrog the technologies and get the value they bring on board to us only if we can pool together and share in the making of our vision of the future we want and will own. Innovation and technology will be very central in the fight against hunger and poverty in this country today and in the future.

End.

Copyright @ 2019.

Geoffrey Ndege

Geoffrey Ndege

Geoffrey Ndege is the Editor and topical contributor for the Daily Focus. He writes in the areas of Science, Manufacturing, Technology, Innovation, Governance, Management and International Emerging Issues. For featuring, promotions or support, reach out to us at dailyfocus9@gmail.com
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