BusinessAgribusiness, Business

Cameroonian agripreneur’s innovation multiplies fish & crop yields

The innovator was elected Best Climate Change Value-Added Solutions Start-up and Digital Agriculture Champion during the COP22 in Marrakesh, Morocco…

The innovator was elected Best Climate Change Value-Added Solutions Start-up and Digital Agriculture Champion during the COP22 in Marrakesh, Morocco in 2016

Cameroon imports about 100 billion CFA francs worth of (circa 173 million USD annually) fish every year, according to recent statistics from the West African country’s Ministry of Trade, making it its largest imported food.

Many Cameroonians complain about the quality of fish and other imported agricultural products such as canned tomatoes but think they have no choice but keep buying them since the country does not produce enough to meet the current demand.

Gisele Olive Atangana tells Journal du Cameroun in front of a local fish store in Cameroon’s Capital, Yaounde that there are times she buys fish not knowing it would end up in the trash can. “I think these imported fish are preserved with chemicals and I think some of them rot when the process is faulty.”

Che Sokolonko, another customer at the store believes the fish she has been buying comes from China. “We call it ‘Chinois’ because they are of low quality, too soft and doesn’t taste like real mackerel, but they are cheaper too. Yet we buy them because that is what most fish stores offer”

Like Atangana and Sokolonko, most housewives in Cameroon apparently believe there is no way out. But 27-year old Cameroonian industrial engineer, Flavien Kouatcha Simo, sees things differently. He invented what Centurion simply described as an above-ground technique that can produce four times more food than traditional methods, without chemical fertilizers. Save Our Agriculture has developed two prototypes to grow food in 45 day cycles in containerized units that can be placed anywhere. Centurion Law Group is one of the organizations that have supported his initiative.

Growing up as one out of five children of parents who practiced small-scale agriculture for subsistence, gave him a dream that he could reach and feed more people doing what his parents were doing; says Kouatcha. His parents bred rabbits and chickens, and equally sold eggs to their rural Banjoun community of an estimated population of 70,000 people in Cameroon’s West region.

Kouatcha says he dropped his engineering job after working for four years with Bollore Africa Logistics and Africa Internet Group, a subsidiary of the German Rocket Internet, in a bid to follow his vision of becoming an agribusiness entrepreneur. He later on created a mechanism which he says combines aquaculture and agriculture and triples yields both ways.

“I have always nursed a dream of creating something new for my community. The dream grew with me and today I run this start up called Save Our Agriculture with five full-time employees.” He says. Kouatcha, initially wanted to solve the problem of fish shortage but realized he could broaden his innovation to up agricultural production. He shares the school of thought that for the world to feed 9billion people by 2030, it would need small initiatives of individual and community interests.

“That is the principal objective of our project. The World Bank forecasts the world population would be 9billion by 2030, but many people don’t know that demographics are growing while food productions are dropping. It’s a danger for all of us. So, people should not only stop wasting food but also try to produce it for themselves” He says.

His innovation involves the use of what he created and named “Aquaponic Kits” which facilitate “the use of vertical and urban agriculture to produce chemical-free agricultural products with the use of fish excrement. The process involves the use of greenhouse and in-house facilities to produce the equivalent of half hectare of harvest,” he says.

The main products which have been successfully grown using this mechanism include, pepper, parsley, celeries and tomatoes. They plan to try other crops in the near futures. The Aquaponic kit facilitate the growth of plants with the use of fish waste as organic fertilizer. “With this kit the user can grow both plants and fish without too much work” says the inventor.

“The kit consists of an a chamber which contains fish and water. Its mechanism lets the water flow out slowly through a pipe onto a cultivation section. The water which contains excrement from the fish nourishes the crops. We are required to refill the fish tanks periodically for repetition of the cycle.” says Laura, who uses one of the Aquaponic kits in her home in Douala.

“With our Aquaponics Kits, we solve two major agricultural problems. On one hand, the increase in the use of chemical fertilizers which cause diseases among consumers and on the other, logistics; which is one of the most important sources of expenditure in the agricultural chain” says the innovator who adds the kits can be used to grow food wherever the farmer wishes

Fish feces are a natural fertilizer that has been used in countries like Japan and Canada for several years to increase agricultural production, and validated for their qualities.

The farming system also reduces the use of water by 90%, according to its inventor. He says “each liter of water used in our environment requires treatment before reuse. But, existing treatments today do not allow a total purification of the water. And even if it were, we would have to spend money on expensive works and infrastructure and high demand for energy”.

At least 55 liters of water is needed to conventionally grow 1kg of tomatoes, but Kouatcha has been able to save 90% of that amount of water to grow the same quantity of tomatoes and pepper which he used as production prototypes.

Kouatcha says the main difficulty is that they are yet to expand to all the regions of Cameroon, which makes it difficult for users to get prompt technical assistance when needed.

Save Our Agriculture has won several awards namely the Best Climate Change Value-Added Solutions Start-up and Digital Agriculture Champion during the last COP22 in Marrakesh, Guichet Initiative Jeunes 2016 of GICAM, and an award from Centurion Law Firm Mentoring Program. Kouatcha’s start-up has equally been finalist of the Youth Agripreneurs Proposals 2016 organised by the Global Forum on Agricultural Research as well as finalist of the Youth Agripreneurs Proposals #100ProjetsPourLeClimat under the COP21 presidency.