Ecuador has long been viewed as a developing country with a high poverty rate and tremendous overcrowding. Sadly, there is truth to this. In 1996, 27% of its urban population had their basic needs unfulfilled, and 34% of poor urban homes were unable to cover the cost of basic family needs. However, one project is slowly setting it apart from other unstable Latin American countries — Hydroponic Agriculture.
Hydroponic Agriculture is the cultivation of crop plants under greenhouse conditions with their roots immersed in a nutrient-rich solution, but not soil. Hydroponic plants can be grown in water, gravel, sand and even in the air with an occasional nutrient bath.
- No soil needed. Areas of countries with eroded or diseased soil may still participate in farming with Hydroponics. This allows countries to be self-sufficient in agriculture and not have to import large amounts of food.
- Less water needed. Since water not taken up by the plants can be reused, this method uses up to 95% less water than traditional irrigation techniques. Drought-prone areas and deserts find this particularly beneficial.
- Better Nutrition. Hydroponically grown vegetables can have up to 50% more vitamin content (particularly vitamin A, all B complexes, C and E) than conventional crops.
- Higher and more stable yields. The energy that a plant usually uses to find the nutrients in the soil can now be invested into yielding more produce in a shorter time span. Furthermore, weeds that a plant usually has to compete with for food and water are absent in hydroponic agriculture. Enough nutrients are delivered straight to the plant, making it grow more quickly.
- Fewer pesticides. Because soil-born insects, fungi, viruses, and diseases are already eliminated entirely in a hydroponic system, pesticides will not be necessary anymore.
- Less transportation. Hydroponic agriculture does not require a lot of space. Therefore, farmers can grow crops near the area of use thus reducing transportation costs.
While the initial cost of one garden is $355 (setting it up, buying the seeds and nutrients), it yields a 600% profit.
Take Asia, for instance. As of 2000, 525 million people classified as hungry in 2000 lived in Asian nations. If 50 million gardens were set up, 232 million people could be helped. This plan would cost $20 billion, but would generate a $135 billion per year.
These statistics show that Hydroponic agriculture is beneficial and the smart way to grow food. Not only is it a source of fresh food, but it is also an income-generating project.
12 other Latin American and African countries, including Ecuador, have implemented this projects, mostly funded by the UNDP and UN FAO since 1984. The results have been extremely positive so far. Healthier children, an increase in employment, and a reduction in disease have all been observed because of Hydroponic Agriculture.
Whether countries invest in more advanced Hydroponics or use a simplified version of this method, this smart way of farming is a positive investment and needs to be given greater consideration.