Hydroponic agriculture defies bitter winters



MASERU – Hydroponic agriculture thrives even during the winter, thanks to innovative water management techniques. The visionary founder of Lema Agrivest, Mochesane Mpali highlights the resilience of hydroponic farming, where plants can adapt to cold weather through controlled water temperatures.

“During winter, with the right setup outdoors, we can utilise tools like insulators to maintain water temperatures conducive to plant growth. Alternatively, advanced tools like aqua heaters can be submerged in water reservoirs,” he says. Mpali notes that setting up a professional hydroponic system can be costly due to the necessity of using high-quality building materials to ensure plants reach their maximum potential.

“Despite the initial expense, this type of farming involves a one-time setup cost, as the system can be used in the long run without the need for frequent changes. Regular cleaning is the primary maintenance requirement,” he explains. Lema Agrivest, an agricultural company based in Khubetsoana, Berea, was registered in 2021, specialising in hydroponics whereby the company cultivates crops in a nutrient solution rather than soil.

Additionally, they offer hydroponic training and equipment sales. Mpali’s inspiration for venturing into hydroponics came from the increasing cost of food and his research into urban farming techniques. Concerned about soil erosion in Lesotho, he was drawn to hydroponics for its soil-free approach.

“I was particularly drawn to hydroponics because it does not rely on soil but instead uses water. Given Lesotho’s soil erosion crisis, I realised that traditional soil-based techniques would only exacerbate the crisis,” Mpali says . Hydroponic farming not only conserves water and space but also accelerates crop growth, making it a viable solution for urban areas.

Despite initial scepticism, Mpali noted a growing interest among Basotho in hydroponic farming, leading to the company’s expansion into commercial production. Today, Lema Agrivest produces a variety of vegetables, serving as a testament to the success of hydroponic agriculture in addressing modern agricultural challenges. Mpali also highlights the environmental benefits of hydroponic farming, noting that it requires 90 percent less water and space compared to traditional methods.

By utilising vertical systems, crops can grow up to the height of walls, doubling the speed of growth compared to traditional farming. Currently, they employ a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) system, utilising locally available building materials. Despite its simplicity, hydroponic farming enables growers to produce food all-year-round, globally, with higher yields and fewer resources.

In a well-managed hydroponic system, plants thrive as their roots receive optimal nutrients’ supply without the need to expend energy on extensive root growth. “The plants receive nutrients directly through their roots, eliminating the need for them to search for nutrients in the soil,” explains Mpali. He further noted the positive response from Basotho towards this innovative farming method, despite initial scepticism.

Through hydroponics, Mpali and Lema Agrivest are not only addressing agricultural challenges but are also contributing to sustainable food production in Lesotho. “Although Basotho are typically hesitant to embrace change and may take time to adapt to new concepts, I initially encountered a chilly reception. However, I am pleased to see a growing interest in this type of farming, with more people now eager to learn,” Mpali adds.

The company has transitioned into commercial farming, specialising in the production of spinach, spring onions, lettuce, basil, and various other vegetables. This shift signifies a promising future for hydroponic agriculture in Lesotho as it gains momentum and acceptance within the community. Lema Agrivest has currently employs seven permanent workers and 14 temporary employees who work on projects basis.

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