FINCA VERDE INNOVATION PROJECT- Nutrient Film Technology

Background

The Integrated Seed Sector Development (ISSD) Plus Project’s Vegetable Component aims at contributing to the increased competitiveness of the vegetable sector actors, through promoting the use of superior Dutch seed varieties and equipping vegetable producers with skills and knowledge of Good Agronomic Practices for higher production and productivity.

The Vegetable component also prioritizes efforts towards improving food safety management in vegetable production, in reduction of chemicals used and added during production to protect: the health of farmer, farm employees, the final consumers and the environment as a whole. However, this is difficult due to the need of excessive chemicals to combat pests and diseases that severely affect vegetables, and the gaps in capacity to safely use the agrochemicals (pesticides and fertilizers) needed for increased production.

To combat this challenge, the ISSD-Plus Project; through its procurement policy published a notice inviting ‘innovation projects’, that could ensure high productivity of vegetables with limited exposure to harmful chemicals. It is through this that the partnership with Finca Verde began. Finca Verde in its submission, planned to utilize Nutrient Film Hydroponic Technology (NFT) to tackle this problem.

ISSD Plus put up 50% of the total cost of setting up Finca Verde’s model NFT production farm, where vegetable producers would receive training on the system and the practical benefits of adopting it.

About Finca Verde

Finca Verde is located in Mukono District, about an hour East of the capital city, Kampala. The farm is approximately 23 acres of good agricultural land, with 4 acres currently in use, has a good water source and reasonably good access roads. The farm’s location is also convenient, as it serves the central region and its surroundings.

Founded in June 2014 by proprietors; Hans and Edna Barendse, the farm aimed to produce and meet the growing demands for quality exotic lettuces and vegetables for a very large dissatisfied growing market. Initially it focused only on lettuce, but Hans and Edna soon realized that consistent supply of the local vegetables was lacking and expanded their production.

The farm started producing different varieties of Lettuce (Lollo rosso, Lollo bionda, butter head, oak leaf etc.), Cresses (water cress, garden cress, broccoli cress, red cabbage cress etc.) Vegetables (e.g. kale, spinach, radishes, cucumber, French beans) and herbs (basil, parsley, coriander, chives, mint, thyme etc.) to satisfy the large market demand.

The Challenge

Whilst producing the vegetables, Finca Verde encountered one major challenge. The farm’s vegetable production was severely challenged by prevalence of nematode infestations. Lettuce in particular is highly affected by nematodes, requiring the use of synthetic nematicides for management, and to reduce crop damage. However, these chemicals are expensive and highly toxic with the added disadvantage of a long residue period which compromises the safety of the lettuce for consumption.

Since nematodes are soil bone, the best solution to the challenge was to grow lettuce on soilless media, i.e. hydroponically. Hydroponics is the process of growing plants in sand, gravel or liquid, with added nutrients but without soil. There are a number of hydroponic systems, such as Wick Systems, Deep Water Culture (DWC), Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), Ebb and Flow, Aeroponics and Drip Systems, all of which require a high initial investment.

Nutrient Film Technology

Finca Verde specifically opted to adopt Nutrient Film Technology, a hydroponic technique where a shallow stream of water containing all the dissolved nutrients required for plant growth is recirculated past the bare roots of the vegetable plants in watertight channels. Though the technology requires a high investment initially, it is very efficient, environmentally friendly and allows for sustainable production of lettuce as a business.PDF File

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