Pioneering Aquaponics Across Zambia

Aquaponics,” the topic of our interview, describes a system which combines aquaculture and hydroponics; in other words, it raises aquatic animals and plants in a controlled, symbiotic, watery environment. What fascinates us is just how purposeful every part of the system is. The fish provide the plants with the nutrients, bacteria, and “fertilizer” to survive. While the plants help clean the water from “fertilizer.” It’s a system with incredible potential as the waste is minimal. Meet the young leader who is expanding this knowledge in Zambia.

Aquaponics focuses on growing plants with fish, creating an ecosystem where nutrients from the fish provided fertilizer for the plants, while the plants absorbed all the waste nitrogen and phosphorous excreted by the fish, which kept the water crystal clear and free of algae. We meet with AL for Agribusiness member who is putting this type of farming to work in Zambia.

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Dorcas Lukwesa, I am a graduate student at Auburn University in the United States currently pursuing a master’s degree in Horticulture science with focus on Controlled Environment Agriculture systems (CEA). I am the founder of Mobile Aquaponics, which is an initiative focused on promoting small-scale aquaponics systems of farming for smallholder farmers in rural communities in Zambia. The initiative is aimed at demonstrating aquaponics systems of farming using locally sourced materials and offer consultancy services on how to set-up, run and operate the systems.

What inspired you to pursue the work you do?

I am working on designing and developing small-scale aquaponics system models for low-incomed countries in Africa using locally available resources (Bamboo and recycled materials). I am also part of the network of young women known as CAMFED Association through which we are working to promote climate smart agricultural systems for women and girls in different communities across sub-Saharan Africa. In the recent years, climate change has crippled agricultural productivity in most of our countries in the sub-Saharan Africa where 80 % of the agriculture activity are done by women who contribute to most of the household food security and income. These women are first to feel the negative impact of climate change as they lose most of their crops to droughts, floods, pests, and land insecurities, making it harder for them to continue supporting their families leading to household hunger and food insecurities. Therefore, there is need to promote systems of farming like aquaponics which are extremely water and land efficient and have potential to build resilience under climate crisis.

Also, coming from the family of subsistent farming community, I am fully aware of most of the challenges that the smallholder farmers face in terms of food insecurities because of climate change. That’s the reason I am passionate about promoting climate smart agricultural system that can build resilience and promote food security.

Tell us about your partnerships

Arnold and I did undergraduate studies at EARTH University in Costa Rica where we both majored in Agriculture Sciences, and I did not know much about his work with aquaponics. However, during one of the ALforAG hangout sessions in a breakout room I had a chance to learn more about his work and I was interested in his project focus since it was similar to what I had in mind for my Mobile Aquaponics project.

Is there a similarity in the work you do?

Both Mobile Aquaponics and Joint Organic Aquaponics are aiming at promoting Aquaponics systems of farming for rural communities in both Uganda and Zambia. We are both addressing some of the limitations to aquaponics system adoption in our countries, among which includes frequent power outages and high start-up costs associated with system set-up with imported materials.

What was it like presenting your work at the ALforAg Hangout?

Collaborating for AL for Agribusiness hangout presentation was a great opportunity for both of us to learn from each other’s experiences regarding aquaponics in a different way and helped us to build trust for future collaborations. The questions and feedback we got from the audience were very helpful and pinpointed some of the areas that needed to be improved on for both Mobile and Joint Organic Aquaponics projects.

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