The Aquaponics Initiative: A Young Activist Transforming Agriculture in Ghana

Farming without the equipment to grow plants? No problem for Daniel Kwaku Owusu. Youth Time spoke to the Ghanian about his incredible aquaponics initiative and how he is transforming agriculture in his home country.

Daniel Kwaku Owusu from Ghana is a young activist with a passion for transforming agriculture, currently implementing an initiative regarding building water conservation systems using mechanical and biological filters (Peri-urban and urban aquaponics).

Daniel Kwaku Owusu
Daniel Kwaku Owusu

The aquaponics initiative is an advantageous project, because, as he will further elaborate in this exclusive interview with Youth Time, it utilises a minimal quantity of water, limited space, easy to manage, provide people with an alternative stream of income.

It also spurs youth entrepreneurship, ensure food security and conserves the environment as the waste water from the system is used to raised vegetables instead of discharging it into the environment.

With his professional career in natural resources management, passion for innovative technology and the love for farming, he has always tried his hands on piloting several technological innovations in the field of agriculture and climate change adaptation.

These notable initiatives include facilitating the marketing of small size tilapia for smallholder pond fish farmers within the vicinity of KNUST campus, Kumasi-Ghana using mobile android application (2018), Farmers climate change adaptation using a mobile application (2019) and Maize disease identification using artificial intelligence (2020).

Acknowledging that Ghana’s economy is predominantly agriculture based employing a larger percentage of the citizens, Owusu’s initiative becomes even more important and beneficial.


The Seed

The initiative aims at producing Clarias gariepinus (catfish) and Oreochromis niloticus (tilapia) for two consecutive culture periods of four months’ production cycle and a month of vegetable continuous production for 10 months.

Aquaponics system
Aquaponics system

“Based on the current prototype and its operation in the adopted households, I have shared the idea with other community members and interested persons by showing them the sample pictures. With the growing interest of people in the system, I wish to continuously establish the system among households.”

Therefore, he is highly optimistic about the large adoption of the initiative in Ashanti and subsequently, other regions across the region.

“The optimism comes from a colleague in the Western region who has shown interest in partnering with me in establishing the aquaponics initiative in his community.

“Concurrently, a Togolese friend also made inquiries on the possibility of establishing such initiative in his community and more importantly getting training on it. I envisage that within five years, the aquaponics initiative will become widely adopted across the country and beyond providing jobs for the youth and women.”


The Appreciation of Farming

With the numerous benefits associated with agriculture in Ghana, its development has been hampered by several constraints, which the government and other NGOs and CSOs have played a major role in remedying the challenges.

Part of Aquaponics system
Part of Aquaponics system

“With the advancement in industrialisation and the high rate of incidences of the conversion of agriculture lands into industries, the appreciation of farming for most youth in urban communities is negligible. Moreover, the rate of urban and peri-urban development with substantial consideration of urban agriculture is a major constraint.”

Owusu further explains that the COVID-19 exposed the bottlenecks within their agriculture value chain during the imposition of lockdown and limited movement.

“Thus, making food an expensive commodity in general and disadvantaged people that depends on only a single stream of income. Furthermore, our urban areas are planned in a manner that disregard farming activities thereby creating a higher dependence on produce from the rural part of the country.”

Therefore, the need to pilot and promote urban and household farming using aquaponics and recirculation systems to ensure food security and create decent jobs in the attainment of several SDGs.

He explains that the innovation is an upgrade of existing aquaponics ideas with better water flow regulation, good gravity for water outlets, high water exchange rate, good water diversion for vegetable culture and approximately 98% survival rate of stocked fingerlings for the first one week.

“The containers are connected to PVC pipes that channel the water into a mechanical water-holding container for debris and leftover food to be deposited. Some portion of the water is diverted into the vegetable bed to raise the lettuce and cabbage.

“Furthermore, the initiative beautifies households and as well motivates children in the house to cultivate the habit of growing food to sustain the planet. The design comes in different shapes based on space availability and the slope and steepness of the land. “


Challenges in Ghana

He always emphasises that challenges are inevitable in life, but the ability to manoeuvre around the challenges makes us good visionary leaders.

“Piloting every new initiative in the new environment comes with its challenges. I must admit that I had to use approximately two months to transfer my initial mini aquaponics project into the larger context considering “water back-flow, swimming direction of catfish, valve openings, pump capacity, locally available materials to serve as mechanical filters, type of biological filters, the number of water redirections and the plumbing works”.

Aquaponics pool
Aquaponics pool

According to him, designing and sketching the prototype became the initial obstacle with several failed computational attempts concerning the dimensions, flow rate and energy capacity to pump the water through the system.

Considering the effectiveness and sustainability of the system, getting the right dimensions and design became his headache during the conceptualisation stage of the project.

“Financial constraint was another setback in the project implementation. Although, I shared the idea with several individuals who were much enthusiastic about the initiative but weren’t ready to risk their finances into it. In a nutshell, product design with appropriate dimensions and financial commitment to pilot the initiative were my main challenges.”

The performance of the initiative is keen to him, however, getting the system to run 100% efficient is not always the case, he says.

Environmental awareness in Ghana has been gradually making waves across all areas of the economy and his initiative largely considers environmental friendliness and conservation.

“The initiative takes its source of power from the national electricity grid, therefore, in the case of lights out, the water exchange in the culture medium becomes affected. Thus, solely running the system using hydroelectric power supply from the government is a constraint.”

So he further elaborated on adopting the solar system in the near future as alternative power supply.


Making our Voice Heard

Owusu believes that we can heal the wounds left on the earth by making our voices heard.

“We are the world and the world doesn’t need people who just claim to be fixing it but rather it needs people who will love and protect it. You don’t destroy the things that you love unconditionally and genuinely.”

“I will advise other youth advocating for inclusive governance, environmental conservation, child labor, education, health, agriculture sustainability etc. to believe in themselves and their ideas. Making impacts in the lives of others start from believing in oneself and leveraging on our networks.”

As per his opinion, we are constantly aiming at making our voices to be heard by our leaders and the world at large.

“Furthermore, we cannot fight child labour, bad governance, low technology innovations, mental health issues etc. without having in-depth knowledge about the course we are fighting.

“I entreat all the youth to develop themselves, knowledge and skills so as to have the right mindset and the required knowledge when given the platform to air out their initiatives to the world.”

He further shares the idea that the advancement in technology has presented to us several avenues to channel our grievance to the appropriate authorities.

“Let us endeavour to make use of the internet, more importantly, social media to reach other people about our initiatives.”


Voluntarism as a Plant We Harvest

He describes himself as a young man with a volunteering heart, believing that volunteerism is an act that we build and the feeling of compassion towards a particular course and availing oneself towards such a course.

The fruit of labour
The fruit of labour

“I always say that volunteerism must be a culture that we cultivate, a seed we nurse and a plant we harvest. Encouraging youth to volunteer will be the best advice to give to people as it serves as an avenue for the youth to explore the world and different situations from a different perspective.”

He says that youth can volunteer some part of their time in volunteering online by designing posters, writing proposals, creating websites, assisting in fundraising for NGOs and CSOs.

“Ghanaian youth are actively versatile with high volunteerism spirit. The youth truly understand the concept of volunteerism as some youth even devote themselves to participate in some of my community engagement works on climate change adaptation strategies in rural communities.”

Photos: From the archive of Daniel Owosu and Dr.James Kaba, KNUST

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