What is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics can be defined as the science of growing plants in a medium other than soil (H.M.Resh, 1998). The word hydroponics is derived from two Greek words: “hydro” (Water) and “Ponos” (Labour). The plants that are grown in this system are fed with a nutrient solution. There are two main types of hydroponics system, namely: water culture and substrate culture. In water culture the roots of the plants are immersed in a nutrient solution while in substrate culture, the roots of the plant are placed in an inert media and fed with a nutrient solution.
History of Hydroponics Cultivation
In Mauritius, the early pioneers of hydroponics production on a commercial basis have been Mon Desert Alma Sugar estate, which adopted the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) in the early 1990’s and the Brizmohun family around Balaclava in the North in the late 1980’s. Research work in Hydroponics started in 1996 with the Agricultural Research and Extension Unit (AREU), setting up trials to evaluate hydroponics systems and locally available growing substrates. Major interest in commercial hydroponics started with the introduction of the Biotechnology Loan Scheme, a collaborative scheme of the Development Bank of Mauritius Ltd (DBM), the Ministry of Agriculture and natural resources and AREU in the year 1999. From 6 promoters exploiting 25 hydroponics units, this number has increased to around 325 growers exploiting 571 greenhouses under a total surface area of around 24.98 ha in 2013.
Crops Under Cultivation
The major commercial crops that are under cultivation are mainly Tomatoes (salad, cherry and plum), Sweet pepper, English cucumber, Melon and Lettuce. Other crops such as Bitter gourd and Eggplant are also cultivated but on a relatively small scale. Presently, hydroponics crops grown are limited to the above mentioned crop due to its high cost of production.
All hydroponics production are carried out in semi-protected plastic and insect proof greenhouses. Being a tropical island and regularly affected by tropical cyclones, greenhouses have to be solid resisting to a minimum of 150-160 km/hr gusts
Research at FAREI
Research work in Hydroponics started in 1996 with the Agricultural Research and Extension Unit (AREU), setting up trials to evaluate hydroponics systems and locally available growing substrates.
Afterwards, a number of trials have been set to evaluate different varieties of commonly grown hydroponics crops. Moreover, improved cultural practices for these crops have also been evaluated and results disseminated to growers.
New potential crops have also been evaluated namely: Snap bean, Asparagus bean, Watermelon and Squash