After spending time with Harare Institute of Technology student Clive Nyapoko, it’s very clear that the Vermi-Aquaponics System (VA System) is the future of sustainable farming.
It combines Vermiculture (farming of worms to produce organic fertilisers), Aquaponics (farming of vegetables using fish waste), and small livestock rearing with Information Communication Technology (ICT) that is used to monitor and control the system. A user can remotely check the temperature, pH, feeding rates, flow rates and many other parameters, and make precise adjustments from afar.
The VA System uses animal waste to grow vegetables in no-dig gardening, that is, using artificial, water-based grow beds such as containers, trenches with quarry gravel or a floating raft, PVC pipes, or vermin-sheet mulch beds.
Nyapokoto is the founder of Shift Organic Technologies – a student-run agro startup. Its core objective is the development of integrated organic farming technologies. Nyapokoto is studying towards a Bachelor of Technology in software engineering at the Harare Institute of Technology (HIT), and is the innovator behind the VA System. He told Harare News that he started work on the project in 2012, and achieved his first positive results two years later.
“Growing up in an organic farming family in rural Zimbabwe, I experienced hardship and intense labour in the daily farm activities which I had to do before going to school in the morning. My goal was to find a way to improve the way my parents were farming by the reducing effort needed whilst also increasing productivity through the use of modern technologies. This would also include using resources efficiently.”
Like many inventors and startup legends, Nyapokoto’s first attempts were in his room in the HIT hostel.
“People used to laugh saying why does someone who is studying software engineering need fish and worms in his room? But I managed to setup and run the indoor system and I would get my fresh herbs for tea and salads,” says Nyapokoto.
The VA System can be set up on any scale – from household to commercial levels of production. It is deployable in urban or rural environments, in backyards, on rooftops, and indoors.
“This is the way to go given climate change, land degradation and urban growth issues,” says Nyapokoto. “Although the initial setup costs are high, in the long run, it’s cheap.”
Shift Organic Technologies have implemented projects in Mount Pleasant, Waterfalls and Mbare. There is work in progress in Kadoma on a ten hectare piece land that will be used for granadillas and strawberries. Another Shift Organic project is up and running on a 1 acre plot in Svosve communal lands in Marondera, that one uses solar power to run.
Like any good system, nothing is wasted with VA. Poultry waste and worms are used to feed the fish, and the nitrogen-rich waste from the fish ponds ensures high-yield crops. Labour is also saved as harvesting and planting is very easy.
For Nyapokoto, the awards have already started rolling in. His design won the Energy Globe National award 2016, and the in September 2016 it was awarded first prize at the Zimbabwe ICT Innovation Showcase. In November 2016 the system was chosen to be showcased at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Conference in Thailand. Nyapokoto will also be exhibiting at the Commonwealth ICT Invest to be held in Dubai on 10 April.
Shift Organic Technologies supply and fit VA Systems. They have developed a manual specific to Zimbabwe, and carry out training for individuals, and groups. Find Shift Organic Technologies on Facebook for more information.