Lakeland students building aquaponics facility in Malawi
SHEBOYGAN - Students and professors from Lakeland University are preparing to build an aquaponics facility in the country of Malawi in Africa.
The project is a collaborative effort between business and biology students at the university and a graduate student, Patrick Tembwe, of Malawi.
Tembwe, a 2004 Lakeland graduate, is back on campus studying for his MBA and is motivated to start a business that makes a difference in his home country.
“I was really happy to hear how aquaponics is operated and instantly I said, ‘Yeah, I want to try it,’” Tembwe said.
Aquaponics is a system of aquaculture in which the waste from farmed fish supplies nutrients to soil-less plants grown hydroponically. The facilities produce vegetables and fish for consumption.
Tembwe and four Lakeland students are learning how to operate the system through a partnership with Lake Orchard Aquaponics, an aquaponics facility north of Sheboygan.
“Right now Patrick is learning all the skills that he needs and tools that he needs to set it up in Malawi,” Britanni Meinnert, an instructor of hospitality management at Lakeland University, said.
On July 28, the Lakeland group will head to Malawi and begin putting their knowledge and experience to work to assemble the farm. The equipment, from the Wisconsin-based Nelson and Pade, Inc., has already been shipped to the country.
“We don’t have aquaponics in Malawi to my knowledge,” Tembwe said. “What I know exists in Malawi is aquaculture, but it will be the first aquaponics of its kind. I am very excited to bring something very new to Malawi, which is very significant in the lives of the people in terms of the output of the product.”
Tembwe plans to grow tomatoes, lettuce, onions, kale and other vegetables to sell at markets, along with chambo, a tilapia-like species of fish.
In addition to selling the produce, Tembwe said he also plans to supply a nearby orphanage with healthy vegetables and fish.
“If I was given a chance to run my own today, I could do it,” he said. “The only difference with my system is I don’t have 500-gallon tanks. I’ll have 110-gallon tanks, but for a start, that’s fine.”
The Lakeland students who will join Tembwe in Africa for the construction of the system include Ashley Calkins, Amalia Dodgson Liosatos, Tiffany Fischer and Emily Scherer. Calkins and Scherer are biology majors and Dodgson Liosatos and Fischer are business administration majors.
Meinnert will supervise and work with students on the project, along with Associate Professor of Biology Paul Pickhardt.
"That seems to be where higher ed is going: to have more collaboration between cross-functional programs and a lot more of this kind of application,” Meinnert said.
Currently, the Lakeland team is training in the science of aquaponics at Lake Orchard Aquaponics. The students, through an internship, are planting seeds, picking plants and harvesting fish.
“I didn’t know what aquaponics was until I stepped foot in this,” Scherer, a sophomore at Lakeland, said. “You don’t really get the whole picture until you’re here doing this. It’s so much fun.”
The four undergraduate students and Tembwe will spend four days a week at Lake Orchard Farm to become familiar with the system.
The students are also helping Tembwe develop a business plan and are researching what kinds of insects and plant diseases there are in Malawi, how the climate will affect the fish, and the chemistry needed for the water-filtration system.
“I am working on the business side of things, and we are doing the business plan and creating the marketing for it,” Fischer, a senior at Lakeland, said. “It’s been difficult. There is not much information online for Malawi, but it’s been a fun challenge.”
The students hope to complete the project by Aug. 8.
While in Malawi, the four undergraduates and Tembwe will discuss their work with students and faculty at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources. They will also give a presentation to the Lakeland community at the conclusion of the trip.
“It’s rewarding to know that something you’ve done is going to be put to use, and it’s not just a school project,” Fischer said. “It’s going to be put to use and people will live off of it.”