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A handful of Cape Verdean farmers are growing their vegetables without soil, and say their method could increase food production and reduce the country's malnutrition problem.

Hydroponics, from the Greek words for water and labour, swaps soil for a nutrient solution. It would appear to be the perfect solution for a country where less than ten per cent of the land is cultivatable — yet few people carry out hydroponics professionally.

Farmer Sergio Roque Monteiro grows watercress, lettuce and other vegetables using less than a fifth of the water, and just a fraction of the land, that traditional farmers require.

He blames the slow take-up of the technique on a lack of awareness, the requirement for constant watering to keep the vegetables moist and the high start-up costs — Monteiro spent US$17,000 to set up his system.

But the pay-off is attractive — Monteiro recovered his investment in one year and is unable to keep up with demand. He believes that hydroponics can be used to fill the country's "production and nutrition gap".

Others, such as Raul Pereira Medes, are warming to the technology more slowly: "I have heard people say food grown without soil attracts fewer bugs".