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Unique Simplified Hydroponic Program (USHP) for Poor Swazi Subsistence Farmers

Dell Challenge Application

The Social Challenge

Swaziland is in a vicious circle of problems that need to be broken. HIV and AIDS prevalence is the highest in the world, leading to nearly half the population being under the age of 18. According to World Vision Swaziland, in 2011 there were over 10 000 FAMILIES HEADED BY CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF 18 in the Lubombo Region alone. Meanwhile over 100 000 orphans under the age of 18 were on records in 2011 countrywide. This is 10% of the country’s population.

According to World Health Organization, 69% of the population lives below the poverty line while 48% live on less than a dollar a day. About 60% of the people still depend on subsistence farming. On top of that, the UNEMPLOYMENT RATE have increase from 40% to 50% within the past two years.

Recurrent droughts, loss of soil fertility and traditional agricultural methods, have contributed to SEVERE FOOD SHORTAGES, as a result 40% of the country’s population rely on food aids. The National Agricultural Marketing Board (NamBoard), state that up to 80% of fresh products consumed in Swaziland each year are imported from South Africa. As a result FOOD PRICES are VERY HIGH.

Money needed for food (2000 calories, balanced)
Milk (regular), 0.25 liter 2.11 R.23 dollar
Loaf of Fresh White Bread (130.00 g) 1.69 R.19 dollar
Rice (0.13 kg) ??
Eggs (3.60)4.65 R.52 dollar
Local Cheese (0.15 kg) 3.90 R.43 dollar
Chicken Breasts (Boneless, Skinless), (0.25 kg) 6.25 R.68 dollar
Apples (0.34 kg) 5.44 R.60 dollar
Oranges (0.34 kg)6.12 R.68 dollar
Tomato (0.21 kg) ??
Potato (0.25 kg) 3.25 R.36 dollar
Lettuce (0.15 head) 0.75 R0.08 dollar

Daily money neccessary for food per person $3.77

Lusoti is located at the white pentagram

What is your Innovation?

Inspired by the 2012 Science in Action Award Winner’s; The Unique Simplified Hydroponic Program (USHP), is a unique 12 months training and mentoring program for poor young Swazi Subsistence farmers living in rural villages of Swaziland. The program (activities) involves recruiting, training and mentoring destitute and responsible children headed families from different villages. These young farmers are trained on five unique and innovative life skills modules: Unique Simplified Hydroponic Method (U1SHM), The Science in Action Award Winner’s Approach GAP and HASIP international standards Sales and marketing products Budgeting and bookkeeping and Computer literacy and internet.

Module 1: The Unique Simplified Hydroponic Methods

Farmers are educated and supported to set up their own unique simplified hydroponic garden to produce large quantities of high quality vegetables in a relatively small area. The method reduces input cost by 80%, since farmers mainly use free available village waste as inputs, while increasing yield by over 140%.

The Unique Simplified Hydroponic Methods adapted for young Swazi’s subsistence farmers, comes with a number of advantages when compared to current traditional farming methods and other simplified hydroponic methods mostly used in developing countries. These include but not limited to:

  1. 80% of inputs are village waste, while increase yield by over 140%
  2. very large quantity of high quality crops produced in relatively small areas
  3. soil tilling and weeding which result in soil erosion is eliminated
  4. pollution of soil with unused nutrients is Greatly Reduced or Eliminated,
  5. water is used efficiently
  6. no chemical fertilizers and pesticides used, thus reducing cost.
  7. Module 2: Local and International Standards

    Up to 80% of farmers’ produce (called surplus in our program) are aimed for sale in local and regional markets. For that reason, we have partnered with both the Swaziland Standards Authority (SWASA) and the National Marketing Agricultural Board (NamBoard) in developing an adapted standards program for these young poor farmers. The lesson includes both local and international standards namely GAP.

    Module 3: Marketing and Selling Products

    In this part young farmers will be empowered with basics sales and marketing skills. This includes defining/identifying their product, market segment, distribution channels, developing a SWOT analysis, selling their products, and evaluating a marketing plan. Each young farmer will be allocated a mentor (volunteer) with whom they will walk through this practical journey at least twice during the 12 months mentorship program. This will ensure that each farmer gains practical skills of the process rather than just classroom theory.

    Module 4: Financial Literacy

    Adapting the Junior Achievement financial literacy program whereby we educate farmers from basic personal financial management; budgeting and decision making; and basic bookkeeping which includes calculating cost, break even, as well as preparing the cash flow and income statement.

    Module 5: Computer literacy and Internet

    To align with a world that has turned digital – people shopping online, connecting with friends on Facebook, hanging up on Google+, share views on Twitter and schedule business appointment online – young farmers in this module are empowered with basic computer literacy and the use of the internet. Farmers will learn to use:

    A computer i.e. the operating system (windows or chrome) MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint Internet, email and social networks.

    Graduation and lifelong learning

    After graduation, the young farmer will join a group of USHP alumni. We encourage our alumni to remain in contact with us for networking, continuous support, business opportunities and for the mentoring of new teenage farmers in the program.

The Logic Model

Resources Farmers
Professional Partners and Mentos
Funding Assistance
A developed program curriculum
Computers with internet access
Board of Directors

Focus – Data collection – Analyse and interpret – Report

Outputs Activities

Recruiting participants (farmers), 16 in 2013 then up to 30 each year, thereafter.

24 x 5 hours classroom sessions (One session each week for 6 months). Project team members

Setting-up and nurturing a simplified hydroponic garden

Practical: Sales and marketing exercise

Practical: Basic bookkeeping

Practical basic computer skills and using the internet


Project Team Members i.e. (staff)


Peace Corp Partners

Professional partners/mentors



Outcomes Increase in number of poor subsistence farmers producing enough quality crops for home consumption and sale surplus.

Percentage increase of local quality supply of crops and vegetables for local and regional markets.

Impact Significant deduction in crops and vegetable price in local markets

Significant number of active poor farmers voluntary practicing simplified hydroponic methods

More about our Unique Simplified hydroponics Methods

Simplified hydroponics have been used in many developing regions as one strategy of increasing productivity and food security major especial in areas with limited land. However, these methods proves to be expensive for poor Swazi farmers.

Our projects adapts simplified hydroponics to develop a unique simplified hydroponic, for poor young Swazi farmers, to grow vegetables using local waste organic matter as growing medium and used waste cartons as garden containers. Nutrients from chicken manure or kraal manure are dissolved into the water used for watering.

Objective of USHM

Our aim is to produce large quantity of crops in a relative small area, without harming the environment with chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides. We make use of local available waste materials, thus an affordable method for poor farmers. International standards such as GAP are observed during production. Crops and vegetables are grown in very large quantities to supply all high and low profile supermarkets in the country at an affordable price for the consumer. The increase in supply reduce shortage of food and which result to high food prices.

The Growing Medium

Mainly the soilless growing medium is a mixture of manure kraal manure and sawdust. Different organic waste like grass, leaves, waste school paper and cartons mixed with kraal or chicken manure are used as well. Waste cartons are used as garden containers.

The crops and vegetables types Most crops and all vegetables can grow well using this methods. However, farmers are encourage to grow crops and vegetables that are on demand from time to time. We have practical experimented with a number of crops and vegetables from simple lettuce to broccoli, corn and squashes just to name a few.

The Production System in pictures

Step 1: Collecting of raw materials.

Step 2: Preparing for planting

Step 3: Transplanting of seedlings or direct planning crops.

Step 4: Nurturing crops and vegetables

Step 5: Harvesting and selling

Who gains the most?

The target market are children heading families and young adult’s farmers which solely depend on subsistence farming for a living. These are boys’ and girls’ heading families, aged between 14 to 25 years old. According to World Vision Swaziland, in 2011 there were over 10 000 such families in the Lubombo region alone (the target region), however this is 10% of total number of HIV/AIDS orphans found in Swaziland.

Like most subsistence farmers in Swaziland, these families have not been producing enough yields each year for feeding themselves until the next harvest. They have been surviving from food aid mostly donated by the World Food Program and World Vision. Vusi’s family explained in the customer’s profile below.

Customer’s Profile

Vusi’s family lives in a rural village, in the Lubombo Region of Swaziland. Like most poor families, the father went to seek jobs in South Africa only to meet his death, leaving behind Vusi, his 3 siblings and a very sick unemployed mother. Vusi is currently 15, and doing grade seven. Due to financial challenges, Vusi have missed years of going to school until the time when Swaziland Government offered free primary education for all.

Vusi being the eldest boy, heads and supports the family with basic food, yet he is still 15 years old. Vusi is a subsistence farmer, taking after his father, and they have been growing maize and beans for family consumption and sometimes cotton for sale. Following the recurrent drought, lack of investments in terms of seeds, fertilisers, general tools needed by subsistence farmers, Vusi have not cultivated their two hectares of land since the father left.

During our visit, Vusi told me that World Vision Swaziland has been supporting them ever since the food rations donated by World Food Programme were stopped. However, they have been out of food supply for a weeks but had hopes that World Vision would visit soon.

What is your Success?

The projects will impacted a number of individual apart from target market, within the Lubombo region as well as Swaziland in different way;

Skill Development and Income Generation for Community Members

We plan to educate and support 120 families each year for two years. Thereafter, as we gain reputation and financial power we will double the intake each year. Therefore over 1000 young farmers in five years will be empowered not only to produce, but able to infiltrate the market, and keep proper records while stepping up with the world and take advantage of E-resources to improve their lives.

In addition, the assuming is that in five years’ time, over 10 000 neighbouring subsistence’s farmers in these villages (not recruited to participate in our program) will also benefited from merely replicating what the USHP participants do. While over 50 000 livestock subsistence farmers will be selling their kraal and chicken manure to participants as more and more farmers replicate the strategies.

Increase in production – Reducing price of vegetables:

In October 2012, it’s worth noting that the average price of broccoli and lettuce was USD 2.50 and USD 1.50 per head respectively in local markets. From our experimental project, we were comfortable selling a head of broccoli and lettuce at USD 1.25 and USD 0.70 with a contribution margin of USD 1.00 and USD 0.50 respectively. Most outlets within the RSSC Estate (our location) cut down the import of broccoli during that time for two main reason; the vegetable was suddenly available in abundant, secondly, our product competed well even in the high profile chain supermarkets, thus an affordable alternative was available.

With over 10 000 farmers producing to feed their families and 20 000 more individuals until the next harvest, this will contribute significant in local supply of vegetables. As a results we project that in 5 years’ time, dependence on food aid will be reduced by over 10%, while imports of vegetables from South Africa will be reduced by over 20%. In addition, we expect a significant improvement in vegetable prices in local markets.

Environmental Impact:

The Unique Simplified Hydroponic Methods has a more positive environmental impact as it eliminate soil tilling which cause soil erosion as illustrated in the pictures below. In addition pollution of soil with unused nutrients or addition of chemical fertilizers is greatly reduced or eliminated. Soil preparation and weeding is reduced or eliminated.

Pictures: Soil tilling which cause soil erosion was eliminated

The USHP production methods encourage recycling, re-using and reducing natural resources. We recycled organic waste, re-used waste cartons as garden containers, while reducing natural resources as inputs in our crop production, i.e. water and land is used efficiently.

How will you do it?

We have divided our activities into 3 stages:

Stage 1: Designing and Developing a Strategic Plan. January to May 2013

This stage have three main activities with which will be done concurrently;

Activity 1: Designing and Developing a Strategic plan. This involve writing of our business plan, road map to success, participating in the dell challenge, building a team and getting partners involved. I am currently working with international mentors such as Peggy Bradley (founder of Institute of Simplified Hydroponics), Daniel Kammen (founding director, Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory) and Thomas H. Culhane (co-founder, Solar Cities) in developing a strategic plan.

Activity 2: Designing and Developing the Unique Simplified Hydroponic Program Curriculum. In this stage more local partners are involved such as Junior Achievement Swaziland, NamBoard, SWASA and we hope to have Macmillan Swaziland, Scientific American and other international partners involve as well.

Activity 3: Securing Funding and Building a team. Through the Dell social challenge I believe will be able to build a team formed by international community, get more mentors and get access to investors. However I currently have a support of Volunteers, from high school students to Peace Corp volunteers to build from. We have identified potentials funders such as RSSC, customers, a local high school which will provide us with business office, a class and access to computers during the starting up phase.

Stage 2: Project Piloting. January to December 2013.

16 to 32 families are recruited. Our focus will be on the families headed by children and young adults age range 14 to 30 years.

This group will be trained following the USHP; Classroom sessions run for 6 mounts, with one (5 hours) classroom session a week. After a month of lessons, staff and volunteers assist each farmer to set up a simplified hydroponic farm. Thereafter, farmers are visited on weekly basis for support and advice by staff or volunteers. Our support programs continue for 12 mounts as illustrated in the table below.

Module 1: USHM and

Module 2: Local and International Standards

Week 1 & 2 Classroom Sessions

Week 2 to 24 Practical’s; setting up a hydroponic garden, and nurturing

Module 3: Sales and Marketing

Week 3 & 4 Classroom Sessions

Week 5 to 24 Practical’s; Practically searching, analysing and securing markets

Module 4: Financial Literacy

Week 6, 7 & 8

Week 9 to 24

Module 5: Computer Literacy and Internet

Week 10 Windows, MS Word and PowerPoint

Week 11 MS Excel

Week 12 Internet and Email

Stage 3: Project Scaling Up from 2014 to 2018

The graph below illustrate how we plan to expand our project support to both farmers participating in the program and other farmers replicating what we do. The target is to educate (directly) up to 1000 farmers in 5 years while supporting over 10 000 other poor farmers replicating the project and mainly supported by USHP alumni.

Who Pays for the Project?

Up to date most of our start-up funds for the experimental projects was raised by co-founders and from sales of crops cultivated for experimental purposes and sold to high profile supermarkets. However we have been receiving support form a number of individuals and organisation such as: The Royal Swaziland Sugar Corporative (RSSC) supporting all our transportation need up to date; Lusoti High School, supporting in terms of classroom, office space and access to computer facilities at no cost; Junior Achievement Swaziland, supporting in printed materials, mentorship and advice, network of volunteers; Peace Corp Swaziland and The International Institute of Hydroponics to name a few.

Below is our

Funding Plan

The graph below illustrate our projected funding plan. Customers (young farmers) will voluntary donate 20% of proceeds from sales of crops back to the project to benefit other. This will make up to 40% of our yearly budget initially, however with over 500 participants in three years’ time, this fund will be sufficient to sustain all our operations each year. Having said that, during the first two years an additional 40% of yearly budget will be sourced from donors and other organisations. The remaining 20% will be raised from selling of crops and vegetables produced on site for demonstration purposes.

How will be funds be used? (A detailed financial plan is available on spreadsheet)

The graph below illustrate our yearly budget: transport requirements taking 30%; printed materials, volunteer’s stipend, management salaries taking 20% each; and then communication and sundry expenses taking up to 10% of total budget.

Stakeholder’s Analysis

RSSC – Social Services Department Return on Investment: A healthy, self-sustainable communities in which the company operates will results in healthy, reliable labour force on the long run. Current Support: making transport arrangement available for major activities at no cost to our organisation.

Future support: will offer financial management assistance and auditing of our financial records as well as assisting in preparing yearly budget plans, financial statements reports at no cost to our organisation.

Lusoti High School Aim to be the leader in innovative teaching, producing high competitive high school graduates, and contributing in overcoming educational and social challenges within its community. Hence we share the same vision. Current Support: Making Classroom with computer facilities and internet as well as operational office space within the school premises available to our organisation at no cost.
Junior Achievement Swaziland Partnership and sharing of resources such as printed materials, network of volunteers, financial assistance and our continuity support in their programs. Current and future Support: Assisting in our program curriculum development with advice, mentoring, and network of volunteers.
Google Return on investment.

Free and open internet for all.

The main vision is to see active internet users increasing on daily basis (using it proper, improve life and changing the world) within our region.

Future Support: Currently in discussion with Megan Smith (Vice President) and Ory Okolloh (Policy Government Relations Google Africa), on how to support our internet connectivity and infrastructure requirements.

International Institute of HydroponicsDevelopment of curriculum and technical support from international hydroponic community Current and future support: assisting in strategic planning and day to day running of our program and in resources in terms of mentorship and expertise. Some donated supplies
Dell Return on investment:

Activating a new generation of active social enterprise

Offering opportunities or a platform to compete for funding, connect with others to share and assist fellows, getting started, mentorship, building a team