To protect plants and fish from disease and bad weather conditions, Save Our Agriculture has placed its aquaponics systems and vegetables under 5 greenhouses in Douala © Save Our Agriculture
An aquaponics start-up is helping Cameroonian farmers improve their yields and incomes by producing four times more vegetables and fish in small areas.
Founded by Flavien Kouatcha Simo, a 28-year-old agricultural engineer, and an initial team of five people, the Cameroonian company specializing in AgTech Save Our Agriculture began producing and selling aquaponics kits in 2016. Through these kits, used for vegetable production – above ground and without chemical fertilizers – and fish farming, people in the country’s urban areas can produce for their own consumption, but also generate additional income by selling their production.
This aquaponic system produces four times more food than traditional agricultural methods. Attracted by these very high yields, many urban dwellers in the country have embarked on aquaponics agriculture, which has enabled them to cope with food shortages, particularly during prolonged droughts. “Many now use this new agricultural technique to grow in their backyard or small garden, not only for their own consumption, but also to sell their production,” explains Flavien Kouatcha Simo.
Aquaponics combines conventional aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (growing plants in water) in a symbiotic environment. “Fish waste is an organic food source for plants and plants naturally filter fish water,” says the engineer. In an aquaponic system, fish waste is rich in protein and becomes the basic biological substrate for plant growth. “This system also solves the problem of pollution and disposal of fish farm waste, which is particularly acute in coastal cities such as Douala, Kribi and Limbe,” he adds.
Increased production capacity
The Save Our Agriculture team, which now has 12 employees, has developed two ready-to-use aquaponics kits, including nurseries, juvenile fish, water and fish food. The basic 150 m2 aquaponics kit is sold for 80,000 CFA francs (121.96 euros). This model is mainly aimed at the domestic market of private individuals, who use these kits for the sustainable production of vegetables – eggplants, peppers, salads and tomatoes – and aromatic plants, as well as for fish farming. They can feed their families. The second model, of 250 m2, is sold for 250,000 CFA francs (381.12 euros) and is mainly intended for hoteliers and restaurateurs.
In less than three years, the company has already produced and sold nearly 900 aquaponics kits to individuals and restaurants in urban areas. Mariam Fule, owner of Afro-Restaurant in Douala, explains that since buying the aquaponics kits from Save Our Agriculture in 2018, she has been growing her own vegetables, which has allowed her to cope with supply problems during food shortages, especially during the dry season. “I can now count on a regular supply of vegetables for my customers,” she says. Thanks to the 15 small aquaponics kits she bought, Mariam Fule collects more than 250 heads of lettuce each week, whereas she could previously only rely on the local market for her supplies.
As it develops and expands its activities, Save Our Agriculture is attracting more and more customers. Many youth groups also want to know more about the production of these kits. “Thanks to the technical support of Douala City Hall and the Multifunctional Centre, a public training centre, in 2017 and 2018, we trained 135 young people in Douala to produce and use aquaponics kits,” explains Flavien Kouatcha Simo. “Many of them were able to start their own aquaponics farms and are now selling their crops and farmed fish.”
Aquaponics helps urban dwellers to cope with food shortages but also to overcome the difficulties associated with the lack of cultivable land in cities. “Finding a plot of land for a family garden is really complicated, but since the arrival of this cultivation technique, many residents of our municipality are now producing food in their gardens,” says Elimbi Lobe, a municipal councillor in Douala’s 5th district.
In addition, “this cultivation system solves the problem of water scarcity in cities and can be used in greenhouses, which makes it possible to control the temperature,” says Bernard Njonga, CEO of the Association citoyenne de défense des intérêts collectifs, an NGO that protects the rights of Cameroonian farmers. Used with aquaponics kits, greenhouses protect crops and fish farming from pests and bad weather, such as heavy rainfall and strong sunlight. Save Our Agriculture currently manages three aquaponics systems and two vegetable greenhouses in Douala and plans to increase its greenhouse production over the next two years.
In addition to helping farmers adapt to the increasing unpredictability of precipitation, the aquaponics system is also very sustainable. The efficient use of water, space and fertilizers minimizes the impact of agriculture on these key resources, and thus helps to combat soil degradation. Aquaponics kits produce three to four times more organic food and thus save 90% of the water used in traditional agriculture, while avoiding the high labour costs of irrigation in drought-affected areas. In return, these savings reduce the carbon footprint generated by agricultural activity by 20%.
The transformative potential of aquaponics
Cameroon’s Minister of Fisheries and Livestock, Dr Taiga, says Save Our Agriculture could help the country significantly reduce its fish imports – which cost €152 million per year – and address the shortage of some food in the country. Flavien Kouatcha Simo hopes that aquaculture will triple fish and food crop production in the near future, not only in Cameroon but also throughout the Central African region. “We are already expanding outside the country and positioning ourselves in Senegal. Nigeria is the third stage. It’s for 2020,” he says.