Years ago, a good friend of mine told me that the secret to survive in a future defined by overpopulation, extreme pollution and inevitable food scarcity was to secure as much agricultural land as possible. It's undeniable that the direction the world has taken will see an increasingly higher competition for resources of any kind, with food, clean water and clean air being the top priority for the existence of human life.
Quick ironically, we are also preparing ourselves to face this threat in the worst possible way. Intensive agricultural practice, increasing the use of chemicals and exhausting land fertility just to name a few.
Fish is disappearing from our oceans - the remaining that is left, is loaded with poisonous mercury. Some smart environmentalist fishermen have started to look into alternative ways of doing agriculture, others try to be more respectful of the land, to combat what the majority is still doing for the sake of money.
Hydroponic production of vegetables replaces soil with water. In hydroponic agriculture, water becomes the medium in which the plants would stick their roots in. Since it is artificially enriched with basic chemical elements required for plant growth, this method can produce a large variety of vegetables without actually cultivating any land. All you need is some water, pipings, pump, sun and seeds (and chemicals).
What's not to like to produce your own kale and lettuce right on the balcony, thus saving money from buying expensive organic produce or cheaper vegetables cultivated hundreds of km away? With hydroponic production, countries with no access to fertile land are now able to produce fresh vegetables in large greenhouses, reducing their dependency from other countries. Brilliant!
But just like any other brilliant ideas, this method also comes with some drawbacks:
- Chemicals. Expensive chemicals.
- Less than perfect nutritional value and taste, according to some
- If not optimally filtered, the chemical-rich water will have to be discharged in the environment
The success of hydroponic is undeniable but the system is perceived as not optimal.
It is in this context that 'aquaponic' started to convince and pick up its popularity as a step further towards nutritional and environmental optimal.
Aquaponic is a combination of hydroponic and aquaculture (fish production) techniques. Following the principles of hydroponics, this almost perfect cycle of interaction fixes its biggest drawback - by replacing artificial chemicals with fish waste, or better, the ammonia produced by fish respiration and ejections.
Believe it or not, fish produces excellent food for plants and plants, in turn, produce excellent filtration of the water that goes back to the fish. On the other hand, bacteria converts ammonia in nitrites and all vegetables love nitrites.
This makes aquaponic the perfect equilibrium, where plants and fish grow in a self-sufficient system, producing grade A vegetables and edible fish. The yield per square meter can be as good as 7 times to normal agriculture!
No more chemicals, no more pesticides, no water waste, just an abundance of clean vegetables and mercury free fish (for who chooses to eat them) produced in a perfectly natural life cycle.
But, what do the fish eat? Sure they don't live off fresh water! They eat fish feed, which needs to be bought, but aquaponic practitioners have come up with solutions to keep it to a very minimum. All in all, the advantages of this system is unique and overrides all other existing systems, driving enthusiasm in almost everybody who was brave enough to get close to it.
And aquaponic enthusiasts are not a modern phenomenon. This method of food production was already a trend in old Aztec world and was used in south east China as early as 5 centuries A.D. It was then almost forgotten for centuries until the Americans brought it back, experimentally at first and as successful small, medium and commercial systems lately.
Today aquaponic is a reality and... a good one. Just imagine the empowering force of a food production system that generates clean veggies and fish out of a symbiotic natural relation between fish, bacteria and plants. It frees urban environments from dependency to transportation companies. It gives desertic countries the ability to produce their own food.
It gives islands independence and autonomy.
It gives everybody the opportunity to eat well without harming their environment.
Aquaponic Design Plans, Everything You Need to Know: From Backyard to Profitable Business, by David Dudley, first edition by Dudley Enterprises, 2016.
Aquaponic Gardening: A Step-By-Step Guide to Raising Vegetables and Fish Together, by Sylvia Bernstein, first edition by New society publishers, 2011.
Aquaponic: a brief history
by Sergio Colombini