Food production still remains an important part of the Zimbabwean economy, even more so in the current economic challenges we face. In addition to that imports have become more expensive as the currency continues to depreciate rapidly. Land, a limited and fiercely contested resource in the nation is hard to come by so I was really excited when Venensia Mukarati, owner of 160 Hydro Farm allowed us to ask her a few questions about their innovative venture. It is a Hydroponic farm startup that is challenging many of our preconceived notions about how farming is done. Here are some of the questions we managed to ask;
When did you start 160HydroFarm?
The Hydronics project began early January 2018. After some trials of the farming procedure, we established 160 Hydro Farm in April 2018.
How big is 160HydroFarm?
The team currently consists of a total of 5 employees including myself. We have regular customers mainly restaurants, farmers market and individual and only one supermarket. We are currently growing fancy lettuce, microgreens and cucumber still on trial. We have a capacity of 2,600 crops at a small area a 64 square meter greenhouse and a 56 square meter greenhouse
Tell us about hydroponic farming and why you chose it.
I have always loved farming it is in my blood, but the main challenge was that I didn’t have enough land. I also needed something new and innovative and through my research, I stumbled upon Hydroponics farming. It fit it in with my schedule as I am a mother and have a full-time job and not much land is needed. I could easily set up the farm in my backyard and that meant cutting down on travel time to a farm as I can check on my systems in the morning before and after work.
You also offer training on hydroponic farming, is that a big income stream for you as well?
When we brainstormed on the idea of the training, we did anticipate that they would bring a lot of income if we conducted them once a week. However, due to economic limitations on everyone in the country we did not get a lot of participants, so we had to scale down to one training a month or every other month of maximum 15 participants. The trainings do bring in income to assist with the farm operations but not much to make profits.
Many question the supply of nutrients as we are told they come from the soil. How does it work in hydroponics?
So, for every crop to grow they don’t need soil, they need nutrients, light and water. With hydroponics, we eliminate soil and use a growing medium such as cocopeat or even wood shavings then add the nutrients to the water.
Challenges you’ve faced and face in running and growing 160HydroFarm?
Hydroponics is very new in Zimbabwe and I am a pioneer in Zimbabwe I didn’t have anyone to teach me. Everything was self-taught using Facebook and youtube. Even setting up the system and buying raw materials it was really difficulty for me. I kept on pushing, trying and learning from mistakes but now I can safely say I have mastered the art of hydroponics and I can now try and grow new crops. The other big challenge that I had like everyone else in Zimbabwe is power supply. My hydroponics system is called Nutrient Film Technique and the water must run 24 hours a day. If there is a power cut, then one can lose all the crops within a few hours.
What are your goals and aspirations?
The aim of the project is to carry out intensive and high turnover production, off a small area, while providing work and leadership experience for local women. We want to grow the project from a backyard to a massive Farm. Also, to increase the crops from only green leaf to include Strawberries, cucumber and tomatoes. We need to have a capacity that will enable us to venture into export markets.
Any words you would like me to add for others who aspire to be like you?
I would say dream big and don’t let any challenge get in your way. My girls anticipated hydroponics was a hobby to start with but now they are taking me seriously. The other girl helps with deliveries and the other girls are into marketing. Don’t be discouraged by people just follow your dream. Someone said to me, you want to do hydroponics here in Zimbabwe it for countries like Israel that don’t have land and water.
They have an upcoming training scheduled for the 21st of September, details of which are in the flyer below.