In light of the world’s population growth and the possibility of future food shortages, it’s not surprising that more people are interested in alternatives to food production. While some are looking to produce better pesticides, fertilizers, hormones and commercial methodologies, I think the majority of people would prefer a simpler, less processed option.
Aquaponics is just that; it utilizes natural processes to accelerate the cultivation of food. It combines “aquaculture” (fish farming) with “hydroponics” (cultivating plants with their roots in water instead of soil). Instead of plowing a field and planting broccoli, a person can farm fish and broccoli in the same system, with both benefitting from the others’ presence.
Aquaponics recreates an ecosystem streamlining the entire farming process. The microbes (bacteria) and worms convert the fish waste into nitrates, which the plants then consume. The plants then filter the water that returns to the fish. So the plants help the fish by cleaning the water and the fish help the plants by producing nutrients. Compared to traditional agricultural practices, the innovative system has many advantages.
1. Aquaponics produces more food faster.
If a farmer were to plant one head of lettuce in soil, the lettuce would take 45 to 55 days to mature. However, in an aquaponics system, lettuce would take 24 to 36 days to mature. The taste of the aquaponics lettuce would be just as good and nutritious as the one grown in the ground, but would require only half the time to produce it. Thus, in the same amount of time, that farmer could cultivate twice the amount of lettuce. Even more, in an aquaponic growing bed, plant roots are not competing for nutrients in the soil, thus allowing a higher density of produce.
2. Aquaponics conserves water.
It may seem counter-intuitive, since the plants grow in water, but an aquaponics system may especially benefit areas of the world where water is scarce. In order to grow a head of lettuce in the soil, a farmer would use about 30 gallons of water, but lettuce grown in an aquaponics system would only require about three gallons. However, the farmer would use that same three gallons of water for the next harvest as well. This goes on indefinitely. Aquaponics uses between three percent and 10 percent of the water used in traditional farming.
There are many places in the world where certain crops cannot grow, simply because they require more water than is available in that area. That means that locals either go without that product, or they import it from elsewhere.
Imagine a desert in Chad, a rooftop in London, or a polluted industrial lot in Denver. Any one of these places could become a thriving food production center. A person does not need ideal farmland to do aquaponics—why not make fresh, organic, and local strawberries accessible to a desert community?
3. Aquaponics builds healthier communities
For many, a commercial-scale aquaponic farm may not be the answer. However, community-sized projects can really make a difference. Aquaponics can lower a community’s (or a missionary family’s) food cost, provide jobs, and broaden the variety of food available in the area. It can raise the quality of fish and produce (since it’s harvested fresh), while reducing the amount of chemicals, pesticides, and hormones consumed by that community.
Even more, aquaponics can create a greater sense of community, as a farmer can invite others to participate. By opening a project like this to the community, a person comes face-to-face with neighbors, restaurant owners, market owners, and employees on a daily basis. Also, since the various components of the ecosystem are self-sufficient, it’s surprisingly low maintenance, which leaves time to invest into the relationships created by this model.
4. Aquaponics sustains the environment.
Using aquaponics to produce food reduces the amount of pesticides, fertilizers and hormones that traditional agriculture washes into rivers and oceans. It also allows people to eat quality fish without depleting the ocean’s dwindling populations. Aquaponics allows people to utilize lands that are otherwise not useful for agriculture, while enjoying high-quality land in other ways and making it more available to wildlife.
WorldVenture has other missionaries involved with science and agriculture, including Thomas Bell, who is installing solar energy panels in Uganda, as well as the Shattenbergs and Carlstroms, who are running one of the world’s largest reforestation projects in Madagascar.