The Centre for African Research on Enterprise and Economic Development (CAREED), UWS along with a social enterprise in Rwanda (Njordfrey) was awarded a major grant of £334,719 (FeC) by the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) for a ground-breaking aquaponics project in 2019. The project which commenced in October 2019 is aimed at improving livelihoods and nutrition in Rwanda. This project is led by the principal investigator, Professor John Struthers, Director of CAREED, the Deputy Directors of CAREED; Dr Adebisi Adewole, and Dr Dina Nziku, and Research Assistant, Ms. Abimbola Ogidan.
Figure 1: LR; Professor John Struthers; Dr Dina Nziku; Professor Jose Alcaraz-Calero; Lars Hardedam; Professor Brian Quinn; Dr Adebisi Adewole; Fiasal Razzaq
PROPOSED BENEFITS OF RWANDAN AQUAPONICS PROJECT
The innovative Agri-tech project aims to spark long-term economic growth in Rwanda where 80% of the 12.3million population rely on farming, while 60% of this population live below the poverty line, and 43% of children under the age of five still suffer chronic malnutrition (FAO, 2020, World Economic Forum 2016).
The project’s feasibility study will provide our partner company, Njordfrey with information on the commercialisation of this aquaponics solution in Rwanda. An additional benefit of the study is the development of a low-cost digital health monitoring sensor by the project’s technical research team, led by Professor Jose Alcaraz-Calero and Professor Brian Quinn from the Schools of Health and Life Sciences and Computing, Engineering and Physical Sciences. Through an outgrower model, Rwandan farmers will be offered aquaponics starter kits, operational training and required inputs to enable them to become independent. In turn, this will remove high up-front costs, provide increased yields of organic produce, tackle malnutrition by increasing calorie intake by 28%, and increase income by 4-fold for up to 80,000 farmers within 10 years.
WHY AQUAPONICS ?
Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture i.e., growing of fish, and hydroponics-the growing of plants without soil in a symbiotic system. The nutrient-rich water from fish discharge in tanks provides a natural fertiliser for plants, while the plants in turn help to purify the water for the fish. This system significantly increases growth for both fish and crops without the need for pesticides, access to rain or farmland, hence, an environmentally sustainable solution to empower farmers.
So far, the project has gone through six (6) quarters and the deadline for project completion was recently extended to January 2022. Some key activities on the project’s work packages have also been completed. The research survey tools for this feasibility study have been approved by the ethical committee of the University of the West of Scotland (UWS), as well as the National Institute for Statistical Research in Rwanda (NISR); NISR website. Survey dissemination have now commenced in-country, and training on the use and dissemination of survey tools by enumerators have been conducted.
With respect to the project outputs, a research paper on the challenges and achievements of carrying out an international development project during a pandemic using the Rwandan aquaponics project as a case study has been written and will soon be submitted to a relevant journal. Also, a handheld point of care (POC) analyser for monitoring fish health and a monitoring sensor equipment are at the final stage of completion for incorporation into the aquaponics starter kit.
Figure 2: Monitoring Sensor User-Interface
RISKS AND CHALLENGES.
The unprecedented consequences of the COVID-19 restrictions have caused setbacks in achieving some project goals. Although travel restrictions are starting to ease, an in-situ trial of the monitoring sensor device in Rwanda was not feasible in previous quarters. In the meantime, an ex-situ trial is being conducted at UWS until deployment in Rwanda is possible. Social distancing restrictions in place in Rwanda also posed a threat to the timely dissemination of the research surveys in-country.
According to Professor John Struthers, Director of CAREED, “The project has made progress despite setbacks caused by the pandemic, and fundamentally, the project strives to be a market leader that can be extended to more sectors in Africa. That is the big goal”. The Rwandan aquaponics project was recently featured on CBNC Africa news, click here to view the CBNC Africa interview with Njordfrey. The project has also received increased public awareness via the UWS site; UWS link, 5th Annual CAREED Conference, Njordfrey websites and social media platforms; see respective links below: