For a brighter future ... despite the blockade
Not long ago, Azem Abu Daqqa, an agricultural engineering graduate, got ready to grow three thousand lettuce seedlings in a 200-square-metre greenhouse using hydroponics, which is a little used technology in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Abu Daqqa and his sister, Safiyya, who specialised in the same subject at university, were able to bring to market the first crop which was planted almost a month ago, after starting from scratch last January.
According to Abu Daqqa, he made a satisfactory financial return on his investment and he is now looking to expand the project in the coming days.
The advantages of hydroponics
Abu Daqqa explains that the yield from his 200 square metres (approx. 0.2 dunums) is equivalent to what can be produced from 1.5 dunums of agricultural land using traditional farming methods.
Thus, one of the advantages of hydroponics is, as he says, that the crop is ready for harvest almost two and a half times faster. What's more, the yield is double that produced by traditional farming.
Growing plants in water ("hydroponics") is a new agricultural technique in the Gaza Strip. It does not need soil and uses almost 90% less water than conventional agriculture.
According to the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, the technique is especially important in the Gaza Strip, which suffers from a lack of water and diminishing space for agriculture. It will also provide both more and safer food since it does not rely on pesticides and industrial hormones which are needed to treat the soil.
In the case of the two Abu Daqqa engineers' project, the concept is to prepare an iron stand, across which broad iron tubes lie diagonally. This allows water to come into contact with the roots which are placed in perforated plastic cups; the cups collect water and allow the roots to expand outward.
Next, water is pumped into the pipes and circulated in an enclosed circuit. The used water is recycled back to the stock tank, and oxygen, which is necessary for the plants, is added.
Abu Daqqa continues: "In this system, we use neither pesticides nor chemical fertilisers, unlike in traditional agriculture. We use natural nutrients to nourish the seedlings."
In hydroponics, lettuce seedlings are cultivated without soil. Seedlings are placed in perforated plastic bags in between volcanic rocks which fix the roots and humidify the environment, according to Abu Daqqa.
Among the three types of crops produced by means of hydroponics, Abu Daqqa is currently focusing on summer leaf crops such as lettuce. He intends to move on to cultivating fruits, in light of the success of his first experiment. At the same time, he can see that root vegetables require more sophisticated techniques, which are beyond his current capabilities.
The Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza has already affirmed its support for hydroponics in order to make the most of the water, fertilisers and farmland against the backdrop of the expanding urban sprawl and the rising demand for water and resources for the growing population.