Team Hydropan - “Empowering Innovation: from Food Systems Innovation Challenge to Youth Food Lab”

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Team Hydropan

In the Food Systems Innovation challenge , 18 teams representing nine universities engage in a competition to design a food system innovation which is in alignment with the national pathways of a specific country. While we are working towards the start of the Food Systems Innovation challenge we would like to share an example of an innovation that can be supported through the challenge. Just like this year Lukenya University in Kenya also joined WUR Student Challenges in 2021. Their Hydropan team, consisting of five members, came up with the innovative climate-smart hydroelectric technology: the hydropan.

The Hydropan project

How is it possible to conserve water from unreliable rainfall in the arid and semi-arid lands of the Kibwezi East Sub-county, Makueni County, Kenya? How can you ensure a constant food supply? These are the questions the Hydropan team worked on. 

During the hydropan project they created a water conservation site by digging a pit in the ground which was covered with cover crops that are supported by metal bars erected across the pits. The cover crops form a canopy over the collected water that minimizes water loss due to evaporation from direct sunlight. In order to reduce food insecurity, the cover crops used are pumpkins which are very rich sources of carbohydrates. Furthermore, this technology provides a constant water supply for drip irrigation of crops which include cassava, green grams, strawberries and region-specific vegetables. Finally, the production of foliar fertilizer using denol worms avoids the use of inorganic fertilizers. The Hydropan project has many positive impacts for the environment and local populations: increased soil fertility and food production, reduced production costs, reduced malnutrition, improved food security and standard of living of the inhabitants.

The project aimed to train students, farmers, local and regional community members in Kibwezi East sub-County. With funding from WUR Student Challenges and the collaboration with Lukenya University they were able to set up a demo climate smart hydropan system at Lukenya University. The site proved successful as the crops thrived, yielding favorable returns from their sale.

Youth Food Lab

After successful completion of the challenge the Hydropan team enrolled in Youth Food Lab in 2023. Youth Food Lab is an incubator program where young people are given the opportunity to make food systems more sustainable with their innovative projects.With support of the Youth Food Lab the project gradually expanded into Makueni County and due to the growing demand the team set a goal to build 200 hydropans in the region in the next 3 years!

After successful completion of the Food Systems Innovation Challenge teams can, just like the hydropan team, enroll in Youth Food Lab in order to continue developing their project.

More information about: 

The Hydropan project

Youth Food Lab

The Food Systems Innovation Challenge


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Maaike de Wit

Communication Coordinator WUR Student Challenges (Wageningen University & Research)

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