In the backyard of a suburban house, a small family runs a flourishing farm and proves that inner-city agriculture is not only possible, but also profitable thanks to new technologies.
My favorite are the herbs, the culinary herbs and especially basil because it has a nice aroma that you smell when you touch the plant and it just makes you want to do something really nice in the kitchen, ”explains Tinodaishe Violet Mukarati on a tour of the “Farm”.
Chinese cabbage or bok choy, fancy red lettuce and parsley grow neatly in tight, obedient rows that are watered with recycled water through plastic pipes.
There is no floor; Nutrients are supplied through the water and all products are grown on metal shelves in plastic-roofed greenhouses. There are three such greenhouses in the garden of the suburban house in Borrowdale, Harare. Welcome to the farm of the future.
As if to prove that this is not a play farm, a sign for the 160 Hydro Farm forms the backdrop for a beautifully arranged exhibition of healthy vegetables with prices written next to them.
Visitors to the farm shop can choose vegetables from the neatly presented items. A box is extra.
In addition to selling to customers in the farm shop, the family also sells to restaurants and supermarkets, with most of the products being sold in Harare’s Pamona market. It is a tightly managed, successful small company.
“In Zimbabwe we have a mentality that the youth have. They think it takes a lot of land to start an agricultural business, lots of vegetables and products to generate an income, ”Mukarati explained.
Today she is on duty in the farm shop and also works as a farmer.
The 28-year-old is the eldest of two daughters in a family of three. Mukarati’s mother, Venensia Mukarati, is an accountant and single mother who decided to go into farming in 2017.
A first foray into large-scale agriculture in rural areas far from the city quickly proved impractical.
While researching how to farm closer to home – and figuring out a way to move her daughters into the business – Venensia came across hydroponics. Here, she decided, this was an option that didn’t take up much space and allowed for a much more practical approach, even for someone who lived in the city.
Many lessons later, plus around $ 6,000 in investment, and the family has a thriving hydroponics business with two main facilities, one on the family home grounds in Borrowdale and the other near the Pomona fresh produce market in Harare.
“At the moment we have 4,500 plants per cycle with our project. Before Covid-19, we were making around $ 1500 a month. However, the pandemic has really had an impact on our earnings and we are now doing about plus or minus half of what we made before Covid-19, ”explained Tinodaishe.
Hydroponics is seen as something of a revolution in the agribusiness as it is able to produce significant amounts of food in a small space while using systems and processes that do not harm the environment.
Because it can be practiced in poor and densely populated areas, it has become widely used as a means of food production in city centers around the world.
However, as Tinodaishe Mukarati points out, getting started requires some planning and capital.
“We needed about $ 6,000 to actually get started. That was for the pipes, the greenhouse, everything we needed to actually get the project rolling, ”said Tinodaishe.
The business then expanded to include three garden greenhouses and then a commercial greenhouse that was larger than the three garden greenhouses combined.
However, there is another role that the garden farm plays; the family turned it into a hydroponic training facility.
The farm regularly hosts groups of students who want to learn more about the business potential of hydroponics. Again, Covid-19 has affected the numbers, but students still come through the doors regularly.
“We teach the youth. We start teaching from the age of five … We even have school classes … young people from rural areas in the city and everywhere. They love it, the boys have really innovative ideas, they have so much to show us, so much to teach, so many questions, ”added Tinodaishe.
Venensia’s vision is a society that is much more concerned with actual food production. And while any business venture carries risks, the wages are a more balanced society and less dependent on fragile food chains. The daughters of Venensia want to take this vision forward.
“Many people can do this 365 days a year because they are not restricted by space, weather and many factors related to crop loss, as the greenhouse protects the plants from disease,” said Tinodaishe.