A start-up in the southern Cameroonian city of Douala has started a project that promotes organic agriculture in the region and encourages a growing urban population to cultivate their own food. Locals can grow vegetables and raise fish in their own homes thanks to the company’s kits, which can be adapted to the size of their balconies or courtyards. More than 500 households have been set up over the past year.

Over the course of 30 years in Cameroon, the rate of urbanisation has doubled, and urban populations continue to grow, increasing by 5% every year – compared to 2.9% for the overall population. Douala, the country’s economic capital, gains 100,000 new inhabitants every year, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

For our Observer Hermann Djoko, an engineer specialised in fish breeding, it’s important to face the challenge of urban growth by producing food locally.

"Fish are a source of protein that some city-dwellers don’t have access to"

In June 2017, he launched the start-up Energy for All-Co with three friends. The company trains citizens in urban sustainable agriculture, by setting up production kits in their homes, adapted to the space they have available. He hopes that this will help to “make citizens as independent as possible”.

"The population increase naturally impacts food security in Cameroon, forcing the country to import food in order to support the population. But we think it’s wiser to reduce the volume of imports and instead boost local production, which can be a source of wealth. After working in big companies, I decided to work in this domain by starting Energy for All-Co with three collaborators. Our plan? To educate people who live in towns about pisciculture [fish farming], because fish are a source of protein that some city-dwellers don’t have access to, and teach them how to grow vegetables.

Lettuces in a square-metre-sized greenhouse. Photo courtesy of Hermann Djoko, Energy for All-Co.

We organise training sessions on these topics several times a month in Douala. We also help locals with setting up the different production units in their homes.

"We install biodigesters in the home, to produce gas from food waste"

When a customer contacts us, the first thing we do is ask them what they need: salads, tomatoes, fish, or even a bit of everything. Then we create a plan adapted to the space that they have available, whether it’s on their balcony or in a courtyard. The challenge in cities is to produce enough in such small spaces. Often we install hanging baskets, or small greenhouses that can fit into a square metre. And so that it costs as little as possible, we use lots of recycled material.

Lettuces in recycled containers. Photo courtesy of Hermann Djoko, Energy for All-Co.

For the fish breeding, we set up plastic or concrete containers. We recommend breeding a type of catfish called silures, which live in freshwater and grow quickly, because you can get a big yield with them. We also install biodigesters in the home, in order to produce gas from food waste, and compost, which can be turned into natural fertiliser for plants.

Containers for fish set up at customers’ homes. Photo courtesy of Hermann Djoko, Energy for All-Co.

It costs between 81,000 and 450,000 CFA francs [around 120 to 160 euros] to set everything up, a cost that quickly sees returns through production. We also come by regularly to check on everything to see that it’s working well. We also offer to buy any surplus production.

The fish larvae are kept in containers until they reach the right size to be eaten after about four months. Photo courtesy of Hermann Djoko, Energy for All-Co.

For example, you can put 300 fish larvae into a cubic-metre container, and they grow until after four months they are about 500g. So in four months you can produce almost 150kg of fish. Obviously one household can’t eat all of that, so by selling us what they aren’t going to eat, our customers can also earn money. Today, we’ve fitted 530 homes and 91 restaurants and hotels. Our goal is to make the inhabitants of Douala as autonomous as possible in terms of their food and energy. By 2019, we’re hoping to have equipped 1,000 households in the town."

With the money from the training sessions and the kit installations, at the end of May 2018 the start-up began to work on the construction of a 120 m² agricultural and acquacultural greenhouse in the centre of Douala. What they produce will be sold in nearby supermarkets, to make the supply chain even shorter.

In Douala, entrepreneurs are getting increasingly interested in urban agriculture. In October 2015, our Observer Flavien Kouatcha began a similar project installing acquaponic kits in people’s homes, allowing residents to cultivate plants and raise fish as well.

>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Cameroonian engineer brings fish farming to the city

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