commercial hydroponics business in West Africa

Scott, a wonderful site with so much information. This is part of my problem as there is so much information and advice out there I am not sure in which direction to go. I am thinking of establishing a commercial hydroponics business in West Africa. We live in the captial city situated on the Atalntic Coast. We have 2 acres of land in a hillside village. As you would expect temperatures and humidity remain high throughout the year. The mean temp is about 27- 30+ C and relative humidity averaging 80% -90% +in the rainy season and 50% in the dry season. There are two distinct seasons.A dry season from Novemeber to April with sunshine hrs  

Suggest covered crop in greenhouse, using a water culture system (plants float on rafts above a air bubbling solution). Use concrete blocks to make a pond, plastic line it or plastic paint it, and fill with nutrients with irrigation pumping aerated solution up to bubble around roots lifting the roots into the top 10cm of the solution where there is a lot of dissolved oxygen.

 averaging 6-8 hrs and a ( very!)wet season. the heaviest precipitation is from July to September with rainfall averaging annually 430 -580mm and with 2-4 average sunshine in this season. the area is an area where vegetables are grown and is at an elevation of about 350 metres. There is some moderation of humidity and temp as a consequence. But not much. The first thing to note is that there is no permanent supply of electiricty where the land is although this may change over time. This  

Maybe get wind power or solar to supplement the generators

   means in the short term we shall be dependent upon generators. We plan to grow the typical range of vegetables such as tomoatoes, cumcumbers, peppers, beans and would like to grow both onions and potatoes for which there is a large mkt and which is largely dependent upon imports.There may also be a possibility of nich mkts for herbs for export, flowers for events. My initialfeeling is that an ebb and flow system or an ebb and flow deep pod system would be most appropiate  

Ebb and flow might work on some crops.

Tomatoes cucumbers peppers beans are all ok – potatoes need 50cm or more in depth of media, not viable hydroponic farming, onions 20cm deep minimum, and both root crops subject to a lot of rot, so not good for filling with water…

 as we would be looking to keep costs down and would need a fall back position should there be mechnical problems with the generator. That is why I am not in  

The floats would be ok for a while, its what we use a lot of in Asia where there are high temps and humidity. Once water becomes stagnant, root rot can begin to become a problem, so it lasts for a while. Media systems could be watered by hand or by gravity as an alternative. Suggest coconut coir or some form of sawdust (some are poisonous) coal ash, gravel (doesn’t hold water well) as medias in grow bags or plastic pots, irrigated by pump/gravity drippers.

 favour of NTF although ihave one seasons esperience with this system many yaers ago. what do you think about this asthe most appropriate system? Could we develop a system which is dependent or partly dependent upon solar? do you have any thoughts on this? Having reviewed growing media I am leaning towards a mixture of perlite and vermiculite.  

Is it cheap enough?

 However i am also conscious of the need to keep roots cool to avoid bolting and wonder whehter E&F is the most appropriate system to combat this. I read somehere that the most cost effective way of dealing with this is to put a frozen bottle in the tank each day!! I am looking to keep costs down and to use local  

Don’t put anything frozen in the tank it will precipitate nutrients. Use a fountain and a fan to cool the water by evaporation, or some sort of waterfall…

 material where ever possible. i am not sure who I could contact to discuss this. I need to design acost efective system but when you apply the simply calculation of dividing total advertised costs for most systems by the number of plants to be grown you soon find out that many systems are exorbitant vv anticipated output. I  


 have recently been looking at a hydrostacking system which looks very intensive but this appears to use a drip system which I am not sure is the most appropriate in a situation where power is both limited, irregualar and expensive. do you know anything about this? There will I think need to be some form of cover especially in the rainy season. what I am thiinking is that a bamboo structure could be erected with open sides and covered with some type of polythene covering. I am unsure  

Will need rain protection. Clear plastic will tolerate fairly heavy rain, rigid polycarbonate is better if monsoonal rains are predicted, as it will pay for itself in ripped covers…

 whether this would be required during the dry season as this might lead to a build up of heat rather than provide shading. Do you have any thoughts on this?  

Rigid sheeting can be removed. In QLD we use plastic covers above the crop and shade cloth on the sides to prevent insects and wind getting in and tearing the covers/plants.

 Another critcal decison lies in the total area required to make this commercially viable.Clearly we have sufficient land for this but is there a system for calculating projected crop productions? ie what could be theexpected output for tomatoes, peppers, etc using such and such a system covering such and such an area? Based  

Its a black art. Do your sums on how much you can expect from a type of crop and then see if it can be grown. You will need some small test systems to investigate crops needs and costs in your environment. It will come in handy over the years for testing, and 10-30 plants is enough.

 upon this it will be feasible to calculate annual costs vv purchase of equipment, maintenance and replacement costs. Market research would then determine the financiall viability of the proposed business. Coming back to the beginning there is so much advice that it is difficult to know where to start. I know that I need to  

Buy Commercial Hydroponics by John Mason. About $40 plus about $15 postage if you want it from me… Its a very good start and shows you where to cut costs.

 decide upon an approriate system, to identify a way to keep costs down in terms of the system, the materials to be used and selecting the most appropriate supplier. However most suppliers lead you to believe that hydroponics is so sensitve that if such and such a piece of equipment is not purchaced then production will  

Most suppliers need your money. Successful growers become experts and don’t need these people. Its not hard to do. Its hard to make money but that’s true of all businesses and especially farming. Farmers either are very successful or pitiful failures, and I can’t identify where the differences are…

 be radically and adversely affected. I have the feeling that the system is more forgiving than most suppliers and scientists make it out to be. What are your reactions to this? I should add that i have found Growing Edge to be quite helpful and unbiased in their articles and opinions. I am also conscious, as you can see,i have numerous questions (and manymore!!) and that trying to deal with these over the internet is not the most appropriate or satisfactory manner to deal with these. Is there an answer to this?Is it too much to expect that I can enter into a dialogue with someone? I must say that despite all the difficulties I have been feeling quite  

I don’t think anyone can give you a heap of time without money becoming an issue.

 optimistic until I hooked up with your commercial link where I note that you inidicate that 95% of commercial businesses fail and that your advise is not to attempt it!! That sort of spoilt my day!! I think in light of the above i have just one question for you Scott and that is ‘ What would you do and how would go about setting up such an enterprise in the situation described above?’ I really do look forward to your response. Rgds and thanks in advance

1. Read all the books – take magazines with a grain of salt…

2. Test system

3. research crop and costs/income on smallest scale first

4 formulate a better plan

5. Try to get another successful grower to work with you, even if they are across the country from you. Pay them something for their time if necessary. They are less likely to try and sell you something you don’t need, and point you to where you need to go.

Best of luck



Scott Andrew