Aquaponics systems in industrial hemp production
Lilongwe, Malawi - 02nd October 2020 will be recorded in history as a day in which three institutions; Invegrow Limited, Aquaponic for life and Students Support Network (SSN) discussed a high value synergetic relationship in industrial hemp production in Malawi. The institutions are working on maximising their abilities while being cost effective and imploring advanced technology techniques to enhance the hemp production in Malawi.
In the partnership, SSN will act as an out grower for Invegrow in hemp production using both rain fed agriculture and irrigation at Bunda campus where as Aquaponic For Life will provide the aquaponics technology in hemp production in the country at a larger scale.
The delegation explored land which would be used to grow the hemp on Bunda college land which the college allocated to SSN as part of their Fees Farming Programme.
Earlier, the delegation was shocked to learn from the college Assistant Registrar for Students Welfare, Mr Jambo that over 50% of first year students drop out of school due to financial challenge; a problem which SSN seeks to address.
SSN Bunda President Mr Boniface Chikufenji explained that the college allocated 17 hectares for the students to engage in their entrepreneurial activities and that becoming Invegrow out grower in hemp cultivation and its value addition activities would boost the financial capacity of the students and also help sustain SSN national programmes to reach out to more needy students in both public and private institutions of higher learning in the country.
In her statement, Invegrow Director, Ms Tanya Clarke said that the institution would engage SSN on 5 hectares of land for hemp production and suggested imploring irrigation farming to ensure the students grow all year round and guarantee constant provision of raw materials for various hemp processing activities.
“Our philosophy is one of a relationship, we would like to support local farmers be able to do business. We would like to share our experience and research to help farmers grow the hemp and produce the products thereof (value addition),” explained Clarke.
Ms Clarke further advised that cultivation land has to abide by organic principles for hemp that will be used to make food products like hemp honey, oil or cakes. She further added that, “we prefer using conservation agriculture technique as a climate change mitigation drive.”
Aquaponics For Life Executive Director, Mr Peace Mnelemba said that aquaponics systems have ever been used to grow various types of vegetables but, “we would like to research if it can work with hemp in terms of productivity.”
Aquaponics is a system that grows fish and plants together in an interdependence design allowing plants to clean water from fish tanks; which is concentrated with fish excretes (ammonia) which is turned to nitrates by bacteria. Thus making food for plants whilst providing fresh water for fish.
“The system uses less water and energy but also it is eco-friendly aside the fact that it helps improve the farmers’ financial base,” said Mnelemba.
While expressing her amusement with the aquaponics technology, MS Tanya Clarke concurred with Mr Mnelemba saying that the system will further reduce cost of water and “fertigation” for her company. She further said that, the companies also need to explore if hemp seed or cake can be a viable protein source for fish to address protein deficiencies amongst the country’s fish farmers who import protein rich food from neighbouring countries.
Both Clarke and Mnelemba agreed to explore and research on the viability of the aquaponic technology in hemp production. Thus, the delegation arranged to set up a trial aquaponic system for hemp production at Bunda and Chitedze Agriculture Research Station in Lilongwe beginning second week of October 2020.
Malawi parliament passed a bill early this year to legalise cultivation of cannabis for industrial and medicinal purposes making it the fifth country in Southern Africa to legalise the crop alongside Zimbabwe, Zambia, Lesotho and South Africa. Industrial hemp is used to produce various medicinal, food and cosmetic products like hemp protein powder, hemp seed oil, hemp soap, paper, twine and mats
Meanwhile, research is still ongoing to find out what artisan products can be made from hemp in Malawi.
Students Support Network (SSN) is a Non-Governmental Organisation that seeks to engage students in entrepreneurial activities for them to finance their education while Aquaponic For Life seeks to transform living standards through sustainable fish and vegetable farming using aquaponics systems. On the other hand, Invegrow is a Malawian company that seeks to create a dynamic and viable industrial hemp industry in the country. The institution is the first to be granted authorisation to conduct research trials on industrial hemp in Malawi.