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Zimbabwe: growing lettuce in empty plastic bottles

Ruth Rugeje, 38, monitors plants of cabbages, a pale green leafy vegetable, grown in empty two-liter bottles in the backyard of her home in Mutapa, a high-density suburb in the central Zimbabwean city of Gweru.

This innovative farmer picked these plastic bottles from the illegal dumping sites in her neighborhood and reused them in hydroponics. There is a greenhouse to help control temperatures in her garden. Her system of hydroponics uses gravity to pump water and nutrients through pipes to plants in plastic bottles as opposed to the one powered by a solar system or electricity from the national grid.

In a country facing long-hour power load shedding due to old generators at the main power plants in Kariba and Hwange, solar energy has become the alternative for many, particularly farmers with hydroponics stations, as the system require electricity for 24 hours.

But the costs to install solar power are beyond the reach of many like Rugeje. The use of gravity in hydroponics is viable and reduces costs. “I was receiving cash-based transfers as a cushioning to Covid-19 shocks. I already had a small garden. I was later supported to venture into hydroponics in October last year,” says Rugeje, a single mother to an 11-year-old daughter.

“I picked up empty bottles from the dumping sites near my home and started growing leafy vegetables, including lettuce, spinach, and cabbages.” She says picking up empty bottles reduces her operating costs. “I did not buy them. I saved a lot. These bottles are also easy to replace,” Rugejo says. Illegal dumping sites have become common in Gweru and other parts of the country, with the reckless disposal of plastics causing a major headache.

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