An innovative Kenyan youth is pioneering an automated technology targeting farmers with limited space in the production of fish, poultry and plants in an effort that is also doubling house hold incomes as well as fostering nutritional levels among families through balanced diet feeding.
The technology dubbed aqua-poultry, is a classic example of how farmers can benefit from the symbiotic relationship of both the plants and animals. It also allows farmers with limited space to tap into the benefits of fish farming as well as poultry.
The brain behind the initiative Robert Mwakio borrowed the technology from America where he was studying. Although the concept quite new in Kenya, it is in use in some of the developed countries. We had students who were doing research regarding the technology in their Masters projects. What Mwakio emphasized on was Africanizing the technology from America to fit within the budgets of smallholder farmers in Kenya and Africa in general given the wide economic and technological gap between Kenya and America. If I was to use the original technology and materials, then the cost of this project would be in millions of Kenya shillings but as it stands currently, the cost is between Sh20000 to250,000 depending on the size and local prices of materials.
The technology is hinged on two concepts; symbiotic relationship between the plants and the animals as well as the maximization of less space for more output. Mwakio who has reinvented both the design and construction noted that he emphasizes on usage of locally available materials in the construction and adoption of the technique. “We must realize that we can only cause massive positive change in the livelihoods of many local people through simplifying and utilization of what is readily available and affordable.” Some of the local materials in used in the construction of the structure include the used oil tanks, timber, wire mesh, gravels, pipes, small pumps among others.
An average structure housing the whole technology measures about 40 square feet. The structure is made with three layers. The tanks are cut into halves. The lower layer is where the tanks with fish are placed. These are the tanks that house the fish for their entire growth period. The second layer of the tanks placed above the fish tanks is where the plants are grown.
These tanks have gravels that hold the plants’ roots. “The Fish tank is filled with water and connected with pipes to a pump. The vegetable tank likewise is filled with porous gravel or rocks that will act as a filtration system, added Mwakio. On the upper layer of the structure is where the poultry are kept. The upper floor is made in a way that the droppings of the chicken find their way into the plant tanks. In some cases rabbits are also placed on the upper floor of the structure as Mwakio noted their higher nutritional value of their droppings.
Aquaponicpoultry culture creates a symbiotic relationship between fish, chicken and plants. Although chicken are easy to maintain caution must be taken when dealing with specific chicken breeds such as layers or broilers much emphasis must be put on the living conditions. “Domestic chicken breeds are easy to maintain since they rely of domestic food waste. The fish moreover will survive on the chicken droppings which are rich in proteins carbohydrates and other minerals. The chicken will eat some of the plants grown and they provide the fertilizer for the plants. The fish will provide ammonia fertilizer to the plant as the excrete ammonia rich waste,” noted Mwakio.
The fish and plants keep feeding each other through the pumping of water. When the pump is switched on, the water from the fish tank moves to the plant tanks that have gravels. At this time, the process of bio-filtration takes place where the nitrogen waste from the fish is taken to the plants and in turn the plants cleanses this water which is taken back to the fish.
The pumping process takes about 30 minutes and Mwakio advises that this should be done four times per day. It’s important to also note that the chicken and rabbit droppings from the upper layer that drops into the second layer of the plant tanks dissolves into the water during the pumping process and taken to the lower tank ultimately the fish utilizing it. Makio also advised that for best results the whole structure should be enclosed in a greenhouse prototype to regulate gaseous exchange. “The plants produce Oxygen which is much needed by the fish and chicken and in turn these animals produce carbon dioxide that is very needed by the plants. The result of such symbiotic relationship is healthy animals and plants. For instance the Kales grown under this system are very leafy owing to maximum nutrient utilization in the structure,” explained Mwakio.
A 40 square feet structure can hold about 10 fish tanks, 8 plant tanks and over 200 chickens. Each tank has a capacity of about 150 tilapia fish. The whole technique is under scientific design and Makio noted that the moment the movements of the fish start being limited in the fish tank then is an indicator that they are ready for harvesting which is done in about 4 months time. In addition, there are reduced mortality rates for the fish because there are no predators as well as the incidences of water impurities and change of PH which is always common among farmers doing conventional pond fish farming. The average market price for Tilapia fish is about Sh250 and therefore with over 1500 fish after four months, a farmer who has adopted this technology is able to pocket over Sh350,000. This is besides the proceeds from the vegetables and the chicken in the same structiure.
According to Mwakio, the technology supports significant reduction in the usage of water compared to traditional soil methods of growing plants as all water is recycled through the system and it is not necessary to discard or change any water under normal conditions. This is equivalent to water usage of 2-3 liters of water a day. In addition, the growth of plants is significantly faster than traditional methods using soil. “In this system the plant roots are watered flooded at least once an hour in most system and have constant access to high levels of nitrates that are in the water,” added Mwakio.
Currently, Mwakio has constructed over five structures that are up and running. One of the structures was set up at Rabuor orphanage in Kisumu which is already a success. Others have been set up in Kissii and Kiserian. The success and economic returns from this noble technology is already sending exciting ripples from farmers who want to own the structures. “I was doing this as part time activity in helping farmers increase on their livelihoods but the success that has been registered by those that have already benefitted from the project has sent me countless referrals. I receive over 30 inquiries daily with many farmers requiring my services,” noted Mwakio. To him, this evidence that people are in search of solutions to wade them out of the murky waters of poverty and that is why they are ready to adopt this technology that is quite new.