Monday, May 11, 2015

Aquaponics: farming with the fish

(By Rivka Borochov)

Israeli fish farmers are known for developing large, sustainable aquaculture systems that maintain livelihoods in many countries. Now a technique has emerged from Israel that is taking fish farms to a whole new level. Aquaponics is to fish farming what hydroponics is to vegetable farming.  

Aquaponics most likely started in Asia, when a rice grower found that the rice in the paddies grew better when fish were swimming in them soon after the fields were flooded. The waste from the fish gave a nutrient boost to the rice. Similar effects were discovered by the Aztecs in Central America.  

An Israeli company mission is to use today’s high-tech tools and knowledge of advanced methods in ecology to build better aquaponics systems beyond the hobby farm. They are creating systems that are easy to manage, control and give maximum yield.  

LivinGreen Urban Ecosystems, builds, manages and in some cases maintains aquaponics farms. 

In 2014, LivinGreen led an educational project in Ghana, Africa, together with the Solar Garden. Systems were built using local materials and the teachers in the schools were given training courses. 

Also in 2014, LivinGreen took part in an FAO project in which model hothouses were set up in several villages in Ethiopia. The university of Addis Ababa and local universities were involved in the project. Aquaponic systems were built in local agricultural schools, accompanied by training courses. Training workshops were also offered to delegates from various places in central Africa.  
In China, in a collaborated venture between LivinGreen and the Chinese company AgriTech, this closed-system farm approach is being implemented commercially to raise fish such as Tilapia, catfish and carp together with tomatoes, Goji berries, lettuce and more.  

The best of both worlds 

Aquaponics has several advantages over traditional farming, aquaculture or hydroponics alone. It takes the best of all these worlds and puts them together.

Water for the fish can be obtained from brackish sources, and the ecosystem is easily purified over and over by the plants that live in the water-filled medium with the fish. It’s a kind of symbiosis: The plants feed off the ammonia and nitrogen in the water, while the fish enjoy the clean, oxygen-rich environment that the plants create.  Now we are fine-tuning a practical method to make aquaponics tools the best they can be.”  

It is estimated that just a fraction of the water is needed to grow crops such as lettuce and tomatoes compared to land-based farming. Very little energy is needed, too. The system is powered by a small pump to circulate and monitor the water, and this can be fueled by biogas or solar panels. And it’s not just about making great salads. At the end of the day, the goal is also to create tasty fish for food, an important source of protein for a resource-dwindling planet.  

Natural fish populations worldwide have dropped, and nutrition and health experts are begging for new solutions not just in developing nations, but also in the West, where protein consumption is accelerating. Farmed fish using this method could be a good mercury-free alternative.  

Farmed fish have bigger, fatty livers due to their diet and lack of natural movement. They are also prone to certain diseases when they live in captivity. Working on natural “cures” and ways to improve the conditions for fish on farms.

LivinGreen has built hundreds of aquaponics units in Israel and abroad, and has consulted for some of the world’s most prestigious organizations working toward improving the odds for people living at the base of the pyramid.  

In the food pyramid, aquaponics seems to be able to offer a win-win situation, but the company cautions that it’s not a solution for everywhere, all of the time. It is good for urban environments like in Cairo, and it’s also good in places like Africa that are far from the sea where there is limited water availability and no regular access to protein. It’s also good for the West on rooftops and in backyards.  

LivinGreen could answer some of the commercial needs of a planet in transition.

1 comment:

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