Sheffield scientists help Nepalese orphans to grow fruit and vegetables

12th February 2018

Nepalese orphans learn to grown their own vegetables with pioneering, sustainable technique aquaponics.

Aquaponics combines growing vegetables in water and breeding fish, providing a food supply all year round. The sustainable technique is a positive alternative to mass production and factory farming Scientists from the University of Sheffield are helping children from a Nepalese orphanage grow their own vegetables with a pioneering, sustainable technique which will provide a vital food supply all year round. The team of researchers from the University's Plant Production and Protection (P3) Centre of Excellence for Translational Agriculture and the Grantham Centre of Sustainable Futures, have teamed up with the Olgapuri Village School near Kathmandu in order to help children and the local community establish a long-term, low-cost and environmentally friendly farming method. The process, known as aquaponics, combines hydroponics (growing vegetables in water) and aquaculture (breeding fish). The fish produce ammonia, which is translated into nitrates by beneficial bacteria. The plants remove the nitrates at the same time as filtering and cleaning the water, so that it can be continuously recycled. Aquaponics is a sustainable way of farming food, using very few inputs to produce a wide range of healthy crops all year round. This high density and low-impact method may be seen as a positive alternative to mass production, factory farming and air miles. The Olgapuri Village School near Kathmandu, has teamed up with the University of Sheffield to investigate whether the technology can be made cheaper, more accessible and better for the environment. Professor Hamish Cunningham, from P3 and the University's Department of Computer Science said: -The more we can meet our basic needs like food and energy in our local communities, the more resilient our communities become. -Olgapuri Children's Village is a great example of production at the point of consumption. -The children get to see the connection between what they grow and what they eat, which is a really valuable lesson, and these systems are excellent places to learn about the biology and chemistry of food production. And they are cropping tomatoes in January! Professor Cunningham, added: -This is a great chance for the University of Sheffield to share its work in the engineering of water flow control the firmware to sense water conditions, and the software to analyse the data we gather. Duncan Cameron, Professor of Plant and Soil Biology and Co-director of P3 said: -Safeguarding food security for future generations is one of the biggest challenges for the 21st century. In a time of rapid environmental change we need new ways to intensify sustainable production and protect food crops. -Working with the orphans in Nepal has been immensely satisfying because you get to witness first-hand how science is making a difference in their lives and helping to supply a secure food source all year round. The Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures is an ambitious and innovative collaboration between the University of Sheffield and the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment. The Centre's sustainability research creates knowledge and connects it to policy debates on how to build a fairer world and save natural resources for future generations. P3 is a centre of excellence for translational plant and soil science using the breadth of plant and soil science expertise within the University of Sheffield to find suitable solutions to agricultural problems. To find out more please visit

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