Aquaponics is a sustainable approach to producing healthful foods inhabitants of the planet need, and it can be applied by anyone who has an available open space. The unprecedented growth of the human population poses severe risks to our world's meager resources if we continue to adopt long-established food productions such as conventional farming. Feeding the world requires sustainability, and aquaponics meets this vital aspect.
What does food sustainability mean?
The most famous definition of sustainability comes from the 1987 UN's report regarding sustainable development, "Sustainable development [meets] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." (Strategic Imperatives. Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future. 1987;10.)
Food sustainability's long-term goal is to provide enough food to feed the global population. A fertile soil, water, fertilizers, a steady climate, and energy are all essential components of a sustainable food system.
Currently, more than three billion people are suffering from food malnourishment, while many of the world's 7 billion people consume low-quality meals. At the same time, the world's population is constantly increasing, and it is anticipated that by 2050, our planet will have a population of close to 10 billion people. Sustainable food development aims to ensure that this growing population has both adequate food and access to high-quality, nutritious foods in the future.
What are the environmental problems that affect food production today?
It is an unavoidable fact that our diet significantly impacts our environment. This situation is inevitable regardless of where we buy our food or what food we eat. The footprint our food leaves is traceable; when it is grown, harvested, and transported, from veggies to meat and everything in between.
More importantly, modern food production has resulted in a slew of problems. Much of the environmental damage has already occurred when the food you consume reaches your table.
- Depletion of natural resources: Food production consumes a large percentage of the world's natural resources. The most significant contributor is livestock, with one-third of global arable land used to grow feed for livestock and another 25% used for grazing.
- Emission of greenhouse gases: Food production accounts for over 37% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, demonstrating our diets' enormous impact on climate change. Furthermore, animal-based foods emit nearly twice as much pollution as plant-based diets.
- Increase in environmental contaminants and pollutants: Agriculture is the most significant source of ammonia pollution and other nitrogen compounds. This impacts soil quality and, as a result, the soil's ability to support plant and animal productivity.
Is aquaponics a sustainable way of food production?
Aquaponics is an environmentally friendly food production technique that employs aquaculture and hydroponics to grow fish, including other aquatic animals, and crops without soil. It is a low-cost symbiotic relationship between the fish and the plant. In an aquaponic system, fish waste (ammonia) is supplied into the plant bed, which works as a bio-filter and absorbs the nitrate required for plant growth. The cycle is then restarted by returning the fresh new water to the fish enclosure.
Many of the environmental hazards mentioned above are avoided when using aquaponics as a food manufacturing method. Aquaponics is a practical and straightforward approach to generating food. The systems are relatively low-maintenance, with most of your time spent feeding the fish and collecting the vegetables. Once your aquaponics tank is up and running, the most important thing to remember is to feed the fish and keeping the system balanced.
- Water sustainability: Aquaponics requires 90% less water than a regular farm to grow crops, allowing for the bare minimum of water. Traditional farming practices are being questioned as the water gets scarcer and food demand rises. Agriculture currently accounts for 70% of worldwide water consumption, with a projected 5% rise by 2050.
- Land conservation: This is another environmental benefit of aquaponic farming and water conservation. Despite the frigid Midwest winters, an aquaponics company in Wisconsin grows salmon and lettuce all year. The enterprise can manufacture 200,000 pounds of salmon and 3 million pounds of a year's worth of salad greens. A typical farm would require 100 acres of land. But this company, on the other hand, only utilized six acres to attain such a level of production.
- Free from synthetic pesticides: Molds, fungi, illnesses, and pathogens have little chance of thriving in foods cultivated in aquaponics systems. Therefore, there is no need to apply synthetic pesticides and herbicides continuously. Similarly, because the fish tanks are sealed off from the outside world, we do not need to treat them with antibiotics or other chemicals, making them a clean, nutritious, and tasty source of protein.
Could aquaponics be used in developing countries?
Due to aquaponics' space-saving feature, which means you can easily set it up using any available space, this recirculating system has been utilized to support areas suffering from access to nutritious foods. These are regions commonly stricken with poverty, and they do not have any fertile land to grow their crops the conventional way. Thanks to aquaponics, all they need is their home backyards and some supplies to feed their family and community with healthy foods such as fish, crustaceans, fruits, and vegetables. Consequently, malnutrition is effectively dealt with.
Aquaponics is currently primarily implemented through non-profit organizations in impoverished countries. The Amsha Africa Foundation, for example, has launched an aquaponics campaign in Sub-Saharan African countries. Following its initial initiative in rural Kenya in 2007, the group has spread to five additional countries and impacted thousands of people. The project is aimed at subsistence farmers who lack access to appropriate food and water and live on degraded or deficient soils. On its website, the foundation has an extensive discussion of aquaponics to showcase its capability of solving many environmental problems we currently face.
Aquaponics Africa, or Ichthys Aquaponics, a project founded by engineer Ken Konschel, is another comparable organization. The organization created an Argi Hub in Midrand, Africa, where aspiring aquaponics farmers can rent the aquaponics tunnels in the facility. Farmers can build and design their backyard or commercial aquaponics system with the organization's help. Consequently, they are guided regarding the nitty-gritty of the approach.
In 2017, Targeted Aquaponic Growth (TAG) concentrated its aquaponics operations in Arua, Uganda. TAG achieved a significant milestone through a ground-breaking initiative by establishing a Research Training Center in Arua to demonstrate their aquaponics concept, educate the public, and ensure food security for local orphanages and schools.
Can aquaponics be used on infertile land?
One remarkable feature of aquaponics is that these apply in urban and rural settings wherever land is scarce or of poor quality. Reduced acreage and fertilizer use, as well as weather reliance, are other apparent advantages of aquaponics. In addition, the amount of water needed is 90 to 99 percent less than in agriculture. We have witnessed successful examples emerging, such as the GrowUp Urban Farm in London, dedicated to feeding and educating its community through aquaponic cultures built-in shipping containers. Students at the University of New Hampshire assist in monitoring an aquaponics system that provides food directly to the campus dining service.
The real challenge sustainability gives us is feeding billions of humans without jeopardizing the planet's limited natural resources. This can only be achieved by coming up with food production solutions that do not require much space yet result in high yield growth. As this article proves, aquaponics can meet this challenge, and many have organizations have used it to help preserve the environment and help those who have the least access to nourishing foods.