SOLVE has been refining a new form of replicable commercial aquaponics at our cutting-edge farm outside Accra. Free of the constraints of rainfall, pests, and expensive chemical inputs, and able to produce year-round, we see this form of sustainable agriculture as a major solution to food security in West Africa. As we expand, we plan to share our hard-won experience with university students, local farmers, and others, offering consulting, training, and opportunities.
Using this system, SOLVE will be contributing directly to nutrition security in Accra through our large-scale tomato production just outside the city. Within the next six months, we aspire to expand our production to 1000 tons per year, maximizing our offering in the dry season when rainfed farms are not producing.
The world’s cities are growing by leaps and bounds – mostly in the developing world, mostly in the poorest sectors, and mostly without planning. Fueled by large families and a vast migration of rural inhabitants to cities, searching for opportunity, urban centers in the developing world are projected to hold 3.5 billion people in thirteen years. This presents a multi-fold challenge of food and nutrition. More people in cities means more mouths to feed as well as fewer people in the country growing food. Furthermore, poor urban households spend between 60 and 80% of their income on food. In many cities such as Dhaka, child malnutrition is as bad or worse than in rural areas.
Many urban residents – an estimated 130 million in Africa – are already growing food in the city as a means of survival, but have little access to infrastructure or training in production techniques and basic food safety. They live with the possibility of city officials or urban sprawl destroying their farms, Accra’s expansion alone eats up over 2500 hectares of potential farmland per year (source FAO Growing Greener Cities). They are also dealing with polluted surroundings – watering their crops from the river in the village was fine, whereas in the city it’s likely to spread cholera or worse. Urban horticulture is a necessity. Fresh, nutritious, safe food must be available at low expense where it’s needed – in the heart of the city.
Current production of fresh tomatoes in Ghana are decreasing. The farming sector is plagued by weather hazards and has even driven some farmers to commit suicide. Due to this low production and inability to produce for local demand year-round, Ghana is the second largest importer of tomato paste in the world. Fresh tomatoes, too, are imported from Burkina Faso to the north or from South Africa. These expensive imports are necessary because Ghana’s tomato farming is constricted by seasonality, poor infrastructure, and lack of basic farm management skills. (For an extensive analysis of the situation, see Case of the Tomato in Ghana.)
SOLVE is uniquely positioned to radically improve Ghana’s tomato output by meeting or avoiding all of these problems. First, our closed-loop systems conserve 90% of their water and keep it in constant circulation, allowing our crops to be constantly watered and fertilized all year round. We are also careful to site our farms near major urban centers, where demand is highest. This proximity cuts down on our transportation time and logistical hassles, and sites us near the best roads. Combining proximity with good processing practices allows us to offer fruit in better condition than is usually available in the markets. Our plants are healthier than those on Ghanaian farms because they are protected from both soil-borne and air-borne pests and diseases, raised on fertilized water from seed, and trellised to prevent ground contamination of the crop. Also, the continuity of our system allows us to grow varieties of tomatoes that yield fruit for up to eight months.
SOLVE’s agricultural techniques are all designed to maximize urban food production while minimizing waste and earning revenue for our investors. SOLVE is the change, practicing these agriculture technologies and letting the revenue speak for itself. We then train urban and peri-urban citizens in how to grow their own food better, using waste-recycling and resource-conserving measures to maximize nutrition while eliminating pollution.
We are the Agricultural Extension agents for Accra.
SOLVE is expanding from our current cutting edge form of commercial aquaponic production of 5,000 tomato plants into a 50,000 hectare-scale replicable farm and agricultural extension center located just minutes from the city center of Accra. Our outreach programs are designed to move farmers from where they are currently along the path to one day owning and operating a low-tech aquaponic system or irrigated nethouse. Our current extension packet includes;
- Construction and maintenance of a low cost net houses to reduce pests,
- Worm composting for fertility,
- Application of biochar
SOLVE envisions a network of outgrower farms surrounding our dual farm/extension centers in urban locations across the country. This network will be able to create a centralized distribution point for farmers and wholesalers, guarantee quality standards are reinforced, grow high-quality tomatoes, guarantee a fair price for farmers and technical support.