Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Scientist with large scale hydroponics farm in Australia, recruiting Kenyan Agriculture students

Little did Dr Christine Walela know that when she moved to Australia 15 years ago, in 2009 to pursue her PhD in Soil Science and agriculture, she would eventually become one of the inspirational farmers practising hydroponic farming on the continent.

The woman who hails from Chuka, Tharaka Nithi, can attest that her career in agriculture has taken her further than she’d have expected.

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When she arrived in Australia, she planned to study climate change and find ways to improve soil management to store more carbon. After finishing her studies, she got a job working for the South Australian government as a research agronomist.

“In 2019, I became psychologically unemployable as they say and I decided to start my own venture,” she said, adding that she is a skilled expert in both protected cropping in the ground and also in hydroponics.

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Dr. Walela explained that water is the currency of any farmer, which is why she found success in hydroponic farming. She chose hydroponics since it maximizes space within the farm, as plants grow vertically rather than spreading out horizontally.

Additionally, hydroponic plants require less water since they are grown on an anchoring media which isn’t necessarily soil that provides optimal conditions for growth.

She has constructed a dam to supply water to her commercial hydroponics greenhouse farm in South Australia, where she cultivates horticultural produce.

“Hydroponics is farming without soil. Here we put the media in the grow bags superimposed with the rock wool and put water with nutrients using the drip. So it’s precision farming,” she stated.

She has successfully grown various types of tomatoes and cucumbers. Additionally, she is facilitating Kenyan students’ migration for higher education to Adelaide City through her academic agency; Legacy International located in Chuka.

“We have forged a pathway for fresh Kenyan graduates; Bachelor’s in Agriculture and related fields so that they can be able to come and study here in Australia agribusiness so that they can go on into their masters,” she noted.

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“When the students come, they can gain work experience here on my farm and I’m able to mentor them.”

One such student, 27-year-old Evans Otieno, said he did a Bachelor’s in Agriculture majoring in crop protection at the University of Nairobi. After his undergraduate, he left for Israel through a partnership program with the University of Nairobi, to do a postgraduate diploma in advanced agriculture.

On returning, Evans Otieno connected with the Legacy International Migration Group for Education, managed by Dr. Christine Walela. She guided him through the process of relocating to Australia for his Master’s in Agriculture through Ironwood.

He is now required to complete a graduate diploma for one year followed by a one-year MSc at a top university in Australia.

“At the moment, I’m seeking more collaboration with the Kenyan universities…We are looking at ways we can have Kenyan universities with students in their last year of their Bachelor’s come here and do industrial placements in Australia and paid internships,” Dr Christine Walela clarified.

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