School gardens encouraged to turn to hydroponics

By Paulina Ndalikokule

DEPUTY Minister of Education, Arts and Culture Anna Nghipondoka has encouraged schools to convert their gardens into hydroponic gardening projects to supplement school feeding programmes.

Nghipondoka was speaking at a launch of the Namibian school feeding policy Otjomuise Primary School recently, where she said the policy aims to benefit 370 000 schools in all 14 regions in the country following Cabinet’s approval of it in March.

The first garden was launched at a school in Gobabis, while the second hydroponic school gardening project in Otjomuise primary school and the third will be operating in Khomas region soon.

Nghipondoka said the school feeding policy would ensure that school feeding addresses hunger, particularly for food insecure households, as well as improve health and nutrition of learners through the delivery of a “diversified nutritious diet” that will enable learners to focus in class.

“In the long term, school-feeding has the potential to contribute positively to strengthening human development capacity of the nation by improving the education level of the population, thereby increasing its chances of attaining rewarding employment and significantly reducing socio-economic disparities,” Nghipondoka said.

According to a Ugandan hydroponic expert, John Serwanga, the concept of soil-less gardening or hydroponics has been around for thousands of years. He explained that hydroponics is a subset of hydroculture, a gardening system whereby plants are grown without soil and instead use mineral solutions in water solvent.

The expert emphasised that growing crops in water ensures that the crops use nutrients more fully than plants in soil and added that the nutrients in a hydroponic system are mixed with the water and sent directly to the root system. “Nutrients are fused directly into the water, plants feed on the nutrients directly. Whereas if it were in the soil, some nutrients would be lost.

He stressed that the water’s PH needs to be constantly regulated and the plants need extra oxygen in the hydroponic growing medium to help stimulate root growth and avoid roots rot.

“Plants with ample oxygen in the root system also absorb nutrients faster. This is a benefit because plants do not have to search in the soil for the nutrients that they require. Those nutrients are being delivered to the plant several times per day,” Serwanga explains.

Serwanga noted that hydroponics is proven to have several advantages over soil gardening such as a growth rate of 30-50 percent faster than a soil plant, grown under the same conditions. “The yield of the plant is also greater. These vegetables you see we have already harvested them four times since its establishment in December last year. And they will still be ready for harvest in a few weeks,” he said.

The policy launch falls within the strategic framework of Namibia's Vision 2030, the national development plans, Harambee Prosperity Plan and the Namibian Zero Hunger Strategy.