By Vanesa Martín
The climatic changes brought about by El Niño have caused unseasonal floods and droughts, and has led much of the southern and eastern African regions to be plunged into food insecurity thanks to failed crops. In some parts of Ethiopia, which was the hardest hit by such unexpectedly severe and erratic rainfall disruptions, about 4/5 of all crops withered. Zimbabwe recently declared itself in a state of crisis, and Kenya and Nigeria are likewise experiencing dramatic food shortages. The number of people now experiencing hunger has increased by the millions. To say the current situation is dire would be an understatement.
More and more attention has been given to climate change in recent years, but it is still not enough to mitigate its effects in the global south where the population still depends so much on the fruits of the earth and on weather patterns. Subsistence farming is the backbone of many African economies like Niger where it contributes 40% of the national GDP despite subpar soil and difficult terrain. With recent sporadic rainfall patterns, however, subsistence and commercial farming are compromised.
Despite the gravity of the situation, there is hope. Hydroponics, a system where plants are grown without soil, seems to be a promising alternative to traditional farming methods. Got Produce?, a hydroponics business based in California, has been establishing branches in developing countries around the world with apparent success. One of these locations, outside of Gaborone, Botswana, recently reported yields 300 times larger than what would have been possible with traditional farming.
In hydroponic farming, crops are suspended in nutrient-filled water within a larger greenhouse complex where pipes help to provide the roots with oxygen. It may sound counter-intuitive, but this process uses 98% less water and 100 times less land than traditional methods! Furthermore, the ability to grow crops indoors means that farmers are less impacted by current and future drought conditions. In an additional boon to the local economy, the business has been able to hire local youth and single mothers who would otherwise have been unemployed. Distribution is simplified, transportation costs and pollution are minimized, and access to healthy and organic fruits and vegetables is streamlined.
All in all, hydroponics is one possible solution to the problems created by climate change and exacerbated by El Niño, but businesses like Got Produce?, while innovative, require a great deal of infrastructure that is not always available in places like Niger. For the poorest country in the world, the best hope for a increased food security and protection from the effects of drought is a safe water source in every village. The deep water wells that we drill are not impacted by the drought cycle or climate change, and as a result, they provide a safe, reliable source of water for both drinking and farming, and with your support, Wells Bring Hope will continue to drill wells and transform lives in Niger.