… Diving deep into hydroponic farming with Lema Agrivest
Kabelo Masoabi The agricultural innovation awards befit Lema Agrivest for they went beyond the norm to have agricultural sustainability.
While many farmers believe that some staple crops and vegetables cannot be grown successfully without good soil or water and plenty of sunlight, Lema Agrivest brought technology into play and owns the space.
Despite the soil production norm which is the backbone of global agricultural practice, innovation has revealed that there are other ways to grow food without large amounts of land and even without soil – and that is exactly what innovatory farmers at Lema Agrivest Hydroponics do.
The company which has scooped the Farmers Pitso Awards (first price twice) in 2022 and 2023, was established in 2001.
It operates from Bochabela 3 in Khubetsoana, Maseru.
Hydroponics is defined as the technique of growing plants using a water-based nutrient solution rather than soil. It is a type of soilless gardening that can be done either indoors or outdoors.
It is a great option for people with little or no gardening space, or who want to grow herbs and vegetables through all the seasons, according to ‘Malilemo Makhakhe, a greenhouse Production Manager at Lema Agrivest.
She highlights that they use hydroponic systems that come with numerous advantages over traditional ways of cultivation including space-efficiency as well less water consumption when compared to soil-based gardening.
“Growing in water also means no weeds and with natural or artificial lighting, one can grow hydroponically all year long.
“We choose to use only organic fertiliser because organic foods are currently being popularised for their nutritional rewards.
For the fact that we grow crops in a greenhouse set-up, the plants can’t be affected by diseases,” She explained, adding that their crops grow three times faster than those grown outdoors.
“We develop structures that enable us to grow crops horizontally and thus; we get 10 times yields in contrast to traditional soil cultivation systems,” she continued.
She indicated that the system saves water and electrical energy used for irrigation and solar energy can also be used.
“In a nutshell, in hydroponic gardening, we don’t experience climate change challenges,” she elaborated.
Also known as a scientific farmer, aged 31, Makhakhe pointed out that using the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), they grow green peppers, letters, chillies and bok choy – a Chinese type of cabbage now popular in Lesotho.
She said they have since established a lubricant market for their produce.
“Hydroponic NFT systems use a precise delivery system to provide water and nutrients directly to the plant roots, reducing the water required to maintain healthy plant growth. This targeted delivery system ensures water is used only where needed, reducing overall water consumption,” Makhakhe explained.
She mentions strawberries, tomatoes and cucumbers as other great choices that are becoming more common for commercial growers to use hydroponically instead of in soil.
A digital pH meter device used to measure the acidity or alkalinity of a solution and an electrical conductivity (EC) meter that provides information about the nutrient content of liquid samples are the tools Makhakhe picked out as a must-have in hydroponics.
“This cutting-edge hydroponic system has allowed growers to achieve high yields with minimal water and nutrient usage. Consider hydroponics if you’re looking for a smarter way to grow your plants. The most crucial inhibiting factor for most farmers is the mindset. Innovatory people think differently,” she advised.
However, Makhakhe shows that hydroponics is still not a widely practised technique in Lesotho, owing to the traditional nature of farming, high initial set-up cost, lack of technical know-how, lack of awareness and the complexity of the technology.
She distinguished their farm as the first to introduce the hydroponics systems in the country and that they regularly offer training to aspiring agriculture enthusiasts, especially the youth.