Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Hydroponics and urban farming

One of my friends here in Manila, Jules Calagui, plunged into the hydroponics (or soil-less farming) business. Hydroponics, by the way, is from greek words "hydro" (water) and "ponic" (working); ie, water working, no need for soil for the roots to hold on. He put up a hydroponics system on the 2nd floor of the apartment that he is renting in Marikina, one of the outskirt cities in Metro Manila. On the ground floor is his restaurant for fresh and organic food. So just imagine -- you harvest lettuce, eggplant, cherry tomato, other vegetables on the 2nd floor, and serve them fresh or half-cooked to customers on the ground floor.

Jules is very happy with his new system -- no tilling of soil, no pests from the soil (hence no pesticides), very little water needed for the roots, and he's using his own organic compost including worm cast, for the organic fertilizer that he mixes in the water for the roots. Unlike planting on soil, a big portion of the irrigated water either seeps under the soil or spills to other areas that cannot be used by the crops' roots, or simply evaporate. In hydroponics, almost all the water are used up by the roots, very little goes to evaporation, and this allows the crops to grow vigorously.

A number of his neighbors and clients were impressed by his system, they' started inviting him to develop their areas too, something like 250 sq. meters each. He dreams he can beat other hydroponics farmers from the nearby provinces because he's within the city already, so in terms of freshness, he can beat all of them.

With continued expansion of the population – the Philippines for instance, is growing by 1.8 million every year, net of death and migration – demand for agricultural land, along with demand for residential, commercial, industrial lands, will increase. Usually it’s the forest land that will ultimately be sacrificed and converted to other non-forest uses. By putting farms above some houses and buildings, and right in the center of urban areas, hydroponics farming will indeed be the one of the major solutions to lack of agricultural lands, and for soil and water conservation.

By producing pesticides-free vegetables and fruits, pollution of topsoil and water will also be eradicated, and giving people healthy food. By producing right in the middle of the cities, transportation of such products from the provinces will be minimized, resulting in less traffic and air pollution.

Other people have also turned to hydroponics farming but did not prosper. One reason is the absence of ready and regular market for the produce. Another is the relatively high cost of setting up one if the entrepreneur did not design or study the basic engineering aspect of a hydroponics system. By integrating production with household consumers, and putting one’s heart and mind into the design and construction of a hydroponics farm, said problems will be addressed.

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