From the Inter Press Service, writer Fulgence Zamblé takes a look at the quiet innovations.
On his low-lying half-hectare of land, not far from Abidjan, François Adou usually grows cabbage, aubergine, potatoes, tomatoes and groundnuts on mounds. A year ago, the 43-year-old dug trenches in an 800 square metre section to devote it exclusively to a new technique for growing tomatoes.
The non-soil, or hydroponic, technique is being promoted by an independent organisation working on alleviating poverty in rural areas, the Agribusiness and Contract Farming House (known in French as GenieAgro). Farmers plant tomatoes or other crops in a substrate made up of cocoa hull fibres, sawdust and industrial waste of plant origin.
This mixture can be used to fill plastic-lined trenches, wooden boxes, or sacks supported above the ground on wooden trestles. The plants grow directly in this material.
"It's a soil-less cultivation technique," Adou told IPS, adding that the results have been great. In the first three-month planting cycle - March to May - he harvested between four and five tonnes of tomatoes. In August, he was already preparing for another harvest - this time anticipating six tonnes.
A kilo of tomatoes fetches between $1 and $1.25 in Côte d'Ivoire. On an initial investment of a million CFA francs (roughly $2000 dollars) to buy the substrate in which to grow the plants, he saw a return of $5,500 from the sale of his first harvest alone.
After Adou's second harvest last August, his neighbour Amidou Traoré had seen enough. He followed his Adou's lead and set up with the hydroponic technique on 600 square metres of his own. "I pulled in 962,500 FCFA [almost $2,000 with my first harvest]. Half went to pay back part of the investment of 850,000 FCFA ($1,700)."
Converting discarded material from cocoa and coffee processing, as well as wood chips and sawdust means manufacture of the substrate that the plants grow in dovetails neatly with a problem of disposal of industrial waste.