Hunger stalks the planet. There has just been massive crop failure in the grain and soy belts of North and South America, due to drought and the failure even of ‘drought resistant’ genetically modified crops. Climate change is seriously disturbing weather and rain patterns globally. With crop failures increasingly prevalent, hunger edges closer to us all.
Conventional agriculture, organic or GM, depends on rain and rapidly depleting underground water supplies. Fertilizer is essential and made from ever more expensive natural gas and oil feedstocks. These are also finite, will keep going up in price, and will eventually run out. The cost of all these chemicals is eventually passed on to the consumer.
In many parts of the world, this means that basic staple foods are out of reach of the incomes of many people already. Hunger has become a normal daily experience for many. Food grown conventionally is just becoming too expensive, and conventional agriculture is just too vulnerable to the crazy weather. Food insecurity and downright hunger are now stalking everyone.
How, then, are we going to eat? While debates rage and conventional agriculture goes on with business as usual, failing due to droughts, storms, and new crop-devastating diseases immune to modern controls, hunger is increasing its grip on human populations across the globe. Conventional agriculture is proving totally unsustainable, if not downright unworkable in current climate conditions. Hunger is even making its presence known among the urban poor of so-called rich Western countries. Food prices are rising at a steady 140% year on year globally. That includes the food prices in your local corner shop.
The answer has already been invented and is catching on. It is totally sustainable. It does not use soil, pesticides, herbicides, artificial fertilizers, genetically modified crops or fish, or antibiotics. It wastes 90% less water than conventional agriculture, whether organic or chemicated. It does not need expensive, risky genetically modified seeds, organisms, or plants. If more generally adopted by farmers worldwide, it promises to end food insecurity for millions of people.
It is a way to raise fish and vegetables intensively in the same recirculating water. It marries intensive fish farming and intensive hydroponics and by doing so, gets rid of the endemic problems of both technologies. The vegetables clean the water for the fish, so there are no uncontrolled effluent discharges to the environment. The fish fertilize the water for the vegetables, so no artificial fertilizers need be bought. Plants love this and grow up to twice as fast at up to half the spacing.
It’s part of the Blue Revolution of aquaculture-water farming-that is taking the world by storm. It’s called AQUAPONICS.
Aquaponics farms both the fish and the vegetables sustainably. Aquaponic systems growing fish and vegetables together can be certified organic. Everything grows in tanks in aquaponics, and water evaporation is stopped by shading the fish tanks and enclosing the water almost completely in the hydroponic raceways, so at least 90% less water wastage occurs than in conventional agriculture. Most water is constantly recycled between the fish and the vegetables. Only around 1.5% leaves the system every day as a consequence of fish solids flushing and cleaning, and this can be scavenged back by dewatering the solids, and reused for irrigating soil crops such as orchards.
Aquaponics is a proven technology that has been used commercially since the 1970s. It also uses around 17% of the energy used by conventional farming, since no trucks, tractors, and other machinery are necessary. As a modest user of energy, it is also very suitable to be operated using alternative energy sources such as wind power or solar panels. It’s all on the spot and harvesting is easy, especially with floating raft aquaponics systems, where the rafts are lifted onto trestles and harvested at waist height in a few minutes.
Aquaponics is a way to build efficient, highly productive, sustainable, largely organic food factories. It is industrial agriculture gone green. It’s renewable food. And it fits snugly into a climate controlled greenhouse, and reduces water use on the farm by at least 90%.
It’s taking off right across the United States and Australia. Properly designed and managed aquaponics can easily produce far more food, far faster, than any form of conventional agriculture using soil. Aquaponic farming is the farming method of the present now, not just the future.
Lettuce seedlings in the UVI aquaponics floating raft system. 29 days from seedling to market size.
All over the world, weather patterns are being affected by record melting of the polar ice caps this summer. This is causing drought in the United States and South America, while record rainfall in places like the UK is causing serious flooding. This is because the icy water released is altering the course of the Gulf Stream and other ocean currents that drive the weather globally.
Meanwhile, farmers are suffering from crops being lost due to this melting of the polar ice caps. This means the price of food will go up sharply worldwide by next year or earlier without a doubt, as food supplies from last year are exhausted and not replaced from harvests that failed this year.
In conventional farming, it takes a whole season in most cases, 180 days at least, to replace a crop that has failed, and if the crop is grown in a place with a harsh winter climate, it will take a year for that crop to be replaced. So in many parts of the mid-western United States, for instance, where the winters include snow and ice, the grain crop that is currently failing will not be replaced for a year.
In aquaponics, a water-saving farming method using a mechanical aquaponics system (see image, left) which requires less than 10% of the water used by conventional farming methods, crops grow up to twice as fast at up to half the plant spacing in the rows. This means that if a crop fails for any reason, up to twice as much food as grown in conventional farming can be grown in up to half the time. Leafy green spin
Also, droughts cannot affect an aquaponics system very badly, since it constantly recycles the water it uses, and only loses less than 10% of the water used a day to the outside, where this water is reharvested and can be used for normal soil crop irrigation. Crops in an aquaponics system are grown in this recycled water from intensive fish farming, and the water is then returned clean to the fish to be re-used again and again. A well designed aquaponics system actually loses only around 1.5% of the water in the system daily to the outside for re-use elsewhere.
Conventional farming loses 90% or more of water used daily to the environment. This is why it is so vulnerable to drought. This is the same using a drip irrigation system or overhead irrigation. The water used in a drip irrigation system is only used once. It is not recycled for re-use over and over again. Although a drip irrigation system is a good way to save water during a drought, it is not nearly as drought-proof as an aquaponic system, which, although it grows crops in a large volume of water, is specifically designed not to lose any significant amount of that water to the environment through evaporation and venting to the outside. A great many different crops including corn and pseudograins such as amaranth and quinoa can be grown very successfully in a properly managed and designed aquaponics system. Amaranth is related to ‘Chinese spinach,’ a stir-fry vegetable. Both the leaves and the seed heads, which require little further processing, can be eaten.
With this year on year continued massive meltdown of the polar ice caps and subsequent disturbance of weather patterns, drought and flood conditions look set to continue. This does not bode well for the world’s food supply and all farmers need to save water and be in better control of water use generally. Also where floods are concerned they should be able to protect their crops from those, too.
With aquaponics, they do not just get crops but also useful protein, in the form of sustainably farmed fish.
By growing a much larger proportion of our food in aquaponics system tanks along with fish, which supply the nutrients for the plants free of charge, crops can be grown in controlled off-the-ground aquaponics systems. Aquaponics systems are intensive fish farms tied into intensive hydroponics systems, where the fish waste water is pumped around hydroponics systems and then back to the fish rearing tanks. No expensive fertilizers are needed. The fish make the fertilizer. It’s organic!
A short on-site training session is all that is required to turn a conventional farmer into a skilled aquaponics system farmer. Such a farmer is prepared to farm without being anything like so vulnerable financially to the weather in the form of drought and flooding. If the funds are available, an aquaponics system can even be built inside a climate-controlled greenhouse!
Lettuce seedlings in the UVI aquaponics floating raft system.
Food consumption is set to double by 2050 as world population increases by 40%. Agriculture therefore has to provide this food, there is no other way to get so much food except to grow it. Agricultural output has to double at the same rate as food consumption, or we are going to starve by the millions.
However, there is only 15% more of arable land available to be put under cultivation. The rest of the land that is flat enough and suitable for soil farming is already in use. How are we going to find more space to meet this rise in food consumption? How are we going to increase agricultural output rapidly enough to cope with this doubling demand?
Meanwhile, in places with large populations such as China, a lot of arable land is disappearing under new cities. All these new people have to have somewhere to live and work! All these people need to eat. Arable land is being lost at the alarming rate of over 38,610 square miles (24.7 million acres) per year.With this shrinking farmable land area, how on earth are we going to ensure that we can meet the demand created by this doubling food consumption? Agriculture as presently practiced, even with genetically modified crops, is woefully inadequate to meet such a doubling demand. How are we going to increase agricultural output rapidly enough to cope with this doubling demand?
At the same time, the sources of artificial fertilizer, methane producers such as oil refineries and natural gas production, are becoming scarcer and much more expensive. Look at the price of gas for your car and how this is going up. Food consumption at present is dependent on the price of oil and gas, since farming is ‘a way to use land to grow food using oil.’ We on this site have issues with that definition of agriculture, obviously. How are we going to increase agricultural output rapidly enough to cope with this doubling demand?
Add the price of pesticides and GM crop seed and licences to all this and you are looking at hefty bills that many farmers would rather not pay, given that the prices they can get for their crops may not justify this. But to increase agricultural output, new technologies and farming practices must certainly be adopted. The question is, which ones?
Then look at the water demand created by intensive soil agriculture. We are already getting massive problems caused by irrigation. This water, used only once and then discarded, is taken from lakes and rivers. These are notoriously drying up. Without enough water to grow the food, how are we going to cope with this doubling rate of food consumption? How are we going to increase agricultural output rapidly enough to cope with this doubling demand?
Then, on top of that, look at the crazy weather we are all getting. London, where I live, just had a heatwave in March, and then went back to around 10 degrees centigrade. That is not normal, and meant that a lot of farmers had trouble with crops putting on growth, and then being chilled out. But if we are to continue depending on the weather holding off for reliable food production, we are deluding ourselves. We are in an era of acute climate change due to our own profligacy coupled with natural causes, still poorly understood. If we cannot control the climate, how are we going to guarantee we can meet this doubling demand for food caused by rocketing food consumption?
Of course, if you live in a city, you will not notice the trouble farmers are in, what with operating costs as above, and weather freakouts as above. In many places tornadoes, freak frosts, and floods are then followed by drought. These are hardly optimal growing conditions. But as a food consumer, you may well be noticing the soaring cost of your own food consumption. What percentage of your living expenses is taken up by food costs today, and how much has that percentage grown in the last few years? Is this sustainable for your budget? How are we going to increase agricultural output rapidly enough to cope with this doubling demand, and keep food prices affordable?
Then, on top of that, add the politicians and the banks, who are playing pinochle with the economy at the moment, due to rampant greed, political corruption, and grand but impractical ideas for solving problems that are to a large extent manufactured by the very people who are purporting to solve them. Political factions create political fictions to suit their own ends. Never forget that. But plants and animals couldn’t care less about fictions serving political ambition. They need precise routines and conditions to thrive, above and beyond any dictates of policy. However, economic mayhem caused by the people in charge may affect supply lines for animal feed, truck fuel, etc. and this may then impact the food supply by starving out the livestock, or bankrupting the farmer.
How is this going to ensure that we meet the demand caused by rocketing food consumption? Well, it isn’t. Food consumption and agriculture are badly represented in the media and hardly mentioned at all across web directories and search engines. People take farmers for granted until their bellies are empty. Many children now think that fish grows in fingers and milk comes out of a bottle.
Natural gas, the main feedstock for artificial fertilizer, is running out. It is becoming increasingly expensive to obtain, and that price is passed on to the consumer, not only in his or her domestic heating and gas bills, but in the price of food. Food prices reflect the prices of everything that has gone into producing that food, however much we take farmers and their work for granted.
When the natural gas gets really expensive, so will food, unless we stop using artificial fertilizer in the massive amounts now commonly employed to grow food. But how to get nitrate fertilizer without obtaining it from natural gas?
Actually, there is a really efficient substitute for that natural gas that is used to make artificial fertilizer and, incidentally, hydroponic nutrient fluid, which is also getting really really expensive, no surprise.
It is essentially free, and in abundant supply. It can be created anywhere for a very small investment. No natural gas is involved or goes anywhere near it.
What is this really cheap and abundant natural fertilizer that costs hardly anything?
It’s fish farm waste water.
“Fish farm waste water!!!” you say, with horror. Isn’t that the stuff that gunges up waterways and poisons lakes? Well, yes, if you throw it out, which is what usually happens, that’s true.
The waste in the water is digested and absorbed by the biofiltration process provided by the plants and beneficial bacteria in the water supply. No waste water gets dumped into the environment. No lakes and rivers get polluted. The only important input is fish feed, and the only (highly controlled) waste output is organic fish manure, which can be used safely on field crops or sold to garden centers for gardeners to use.
This system uses less than 10% of the water required to grow equivalent amounts of food by conventional agriculture, including the genetically modified kind. Most of the water gets recycled as it is pumped from the fish to the plants, and from the plants to the fish. It also uses less than 10% of the space for the equivalent amount of food, if properly managed by trained and dedicated staff. That’s around 40% more food per hectare than soil agriculture. Without needing any natural gas or oil-derived fertilizer or agrichemicals. The fertilizer is in the fish water.
So with aquaponic farming, you grow nearly double the amount of food, on far less space and water. You more than double your agricultural output, while spending less on inputs and land. In fact, you don’t even need land for this kind of agriculture. You can do this in the city, on rootops and back lots. This puts land back into food production that was taken out of production by urban sprawl. And it reduces the cost of transportation of food to the markets to zero. Also, you can use various alternative energy technologies to power the pumps, the air blowers, the grow lights, and the greenhouse heaters you may need.
Which is what you need to keep up with that doubling demand for food, that soaring rise in food consumption, those spiralling food costs. And to divorce agriculture for good from its dependency on oil and gas.
To learn more about the solution to agricultural output shortfalls, straightforward low-tech methods for growing far more food for less inputs, on far less space, (you do not even need farmland for this, you can do it on a back lot in the city, without soil in any form) there is a little book, What Is Aquaponics: Aquaponics How To, that explains the basic, inexpensive technology very clearly:
Food insecurity used to be something relegated to the Third World, places like Africa and India. No longer. Due to the economic downturn, people in Western countries like Spain and Italy, and even in poor areas of London, are finding it hard to feed themselves adequately and well.
Half the world’s population now live in cities. That’s half the people who need food security, but are miles away from where food is grown and readily available at cheap prices.
Meanwhile climate change and economic disarray are making food prices rise at hundreds of percent more than wage levels. In Western countries, not only in poor benighted Africa and so on. And food prices in the cities are going up even more, due to high shop rents and energy bills being passed on to the food consumer on the street. This is set to seriously impact food security in cities.
However, if you fly over a city like London or Rome, acres and hectares of flat roof space can be seen spreading for miles. These flat roof spaces are ideal for agricultural engineering projects such as aquaponics systems, run off the excess heat that these buildings necessarily generate anyway. Using this energy to grow food is also a way to guarantee urban food security.
Soilless agriculture of a peculiarly productive and innovative kind involving intensive fish farming married to an adapted form of hydroponics is called ‘aquaponics’. This natural ecosystem in an artificially engineered tank and piping setup can be assembled and set into motion on a flat rooftop in a matter of a week to ten days. The flat rooftop can be producing tonnages of vegetables and fish at an accellerated rate within six weeks of switching this rooftop food factory on. Agricultural engineering of this sort is easy to assemble from mostly recycled parts and does not have to cost a fortune to run, either.
Food insecurity in cities, where half the world’s population lives without access to land for growing soil-based crops, would be a thing of the past if zoning laws and city regulations were opened up to permit agricultural engineering projects such as aquaponics systems inside the city limits on waste spaces, such as flat rooftops.
The waste heat from buildings can be harnessed using heat exchanger technology to provide the power and heat needed to run pumps, water heaters, greenhouse heaters, air blowers, ventilation and lighting for rooftop greenhouses. Aquaponics is not dependent on agrichemicals from the oil and gas industry, and so is cheaper to run than its cousin hydroponics. Using recycled waste energy from the buildings it is based upon, aquaponics systems as urban farms can also save further on running costs. This can be passed on to the consumer in the form of cheaper food prices.
By growing food locally in the city where the market for it is, you also save a fortune on food transportation costs, since the food can be sold right out the back of the aquaponics systems directly to local consumers. This also means the food is extremely fresh and is consumed at the peak of its nutritional value.
Since food is produced and consumed locally in the city, it also gives back control to local people over their own food security. Food security issues also become linked to local employment issues, and such rooftop urban farming aquaponics enterprises would also provide skilled and semi-skilled jobs for local people. The agricultural engineering aspects of this business in the city would also open up agricultural engineering jobs for urban farm designers.
Food insecurity will become an increasingly obvious problem in cities worldwide, as urban populations grow in response to the despoiling of the natural environment, with its consequences for rural communities, who have lost their small farm economic base to vast agricultural combines. This is happening all over the world. With high food prices in cities, it makes sense to recycle energy and materials, which would otherwise be wasted, within the city, to grow food more cheaply on the spot, using soilless growing technologies like aquaponics locally where the food is needed.
People should work together in the cities to tackle this problem of food insecurity themselves, using the spaces and materials that are actually readily to hand. All you need is a little imagination, and the aquaponics system construction and maintenance skills necessary. These are easily acquired by anyone with a high school education and construction skills in a couple of weeks.
Food prices for food imported into the city from the countryside, or abroad, will always rise. But with a bit of ingenuity and agricultural engineering, food prices for food grown on urban aquaponic farms may well substantially undercut the food prices for food grown far away from the city, and trucked or shipped in at great expense.
To find out more detailed information about how to design and operate aquaponic farms, see the professionally expert books below, all of which I highly recommend:
Aquaponics Global Anthology 1 is available for instant download and to print out here: [paiddownloads id="1"]
China is undergoing the worst water crisis in its history. In northern China, the fossil water supplies (ancient underground aquifers that cannot be resupplied by rainfall) are already mostly used up. However, the solutions being employed to date seem to be just a finger stuck in the dyke of this water crisis problem, given the magnitude of the shortfall and the rate of increase of demand for water in China. Food production and China’s industrial revolution are fuelling ever more extravagant water use. Here are some mind boggling China water crisis statistics from the experts:
‘China becomes drier each year—its freshwater reserves declined 13% between 2000 and 2009. Severe droughts occurred in 2000, 2007 and 2009. Normally the southern regions receive 80% of China’s rainfall and snowmelt, about 79 inches a year, while the north and west get 20%, 8 to 16 inches.
This winter, Beijing and the northern and eastern provinces had the worst drought in 60 years. It has left 2.57 million people and 2.79 million heads of livestock short of water, and affected 12.75 million acres of wheat fields, which sent global food prices soaring. South China experienced 50% less rainfall than normal, resulting in the drying up of rivers and reservoirs. While torrential rainfall fell on the south this week, northern regions are still suffering from drought.
China’s per capita availability of water is 1/3 the world’s average, and in the dry north where most of the grain and vegetables are grown, per capita availability is only 1/4 of that in the south. Over 300 million people in rural areas have no access to safe drinking water and 54% of China’s main rivers contain water unfit for human consumption.’ from ‘How China Is Dealing With Its Water Crisis’ by Renee Cho | – Blogs of the Earth Institute, Columbia University, 2011.
The wastage of water by conventional agriculture and industry in China does not only threaten China, but the world at large. What would happen if China, which has billions of inhabitants, should competely run out of water? Where would all these people go and how could this water supply shortfall be made up? How can China improve its water use efficiency?
The Chinese government is spending billions of yuan on ambitious schemes such as desalination plants to turn seawater into fresh water, and a huge canal project to take water from South China to North China to alleviate the drought there. However these projects do not really focus on water use efficiency. They are not designed to save water, only to provide more water from other areas which seem to have a more plentiful supply. The people of South China are already concerned that North China may soak up too much of their finite water supply via the new canal, and desalination projects have a problem: what do you do with the mountains of salt that result from boiling off all that H2O? China needs more water to ensure food production. Or does it?
Meanwhile water use in China is increasing exponentially as its booming economy ups the demand for water-intensive farmed products such as meat. Industry also uses and pollutes mind boggling quantitities of water every day.
Meanwhile, there is a solution to the extravagant water use in China’s agriculture. This water use efficiency solution is largely being ignored, despite the latest policy moves on the part of China’s central government to encourage new cutting-edge agriculture techniques and food production technologies . This proven water efficient and water saving agriculture technology has been in existence and proven to work in different climates and cultures at least since the 1970s, and it does not rely on expensive biotech, chemical fertilizers, or complicated widgets to work.
It is called modern, up to date water-saving water-efficient aquaponics and it is an upgrade on conventional aquaculture, which is already practiced all over China. It marries aquaculture to aquaponics and in so doing saves 90% or more of the water required to grow food:
‘The aquaculture industry largely has developed without regard to the increasing scarcity of water. Traditional intensive (high production per unit area) aquaculture systems require more water than less intensive
pond systems, being dependent on high volumes of fresh water flowing through fish-rearing tanks to supply dissolved oxygen and remove deleterious metabolites. Both= have very high water demand compared with other competing industries, arguing strongly for the integration of aquaculture with other industries or with agriculture (Phillips et al. 1991).
Integration of aquaculture with agriculture can reduce the water requirement for the production of quality protein and fresh vegetable products relative to both culture systems operated independently. Innovative fish/vegetable co-culture systems use the nutrient by-products of fish culture as direct inputs for vegetable production, constantly recycling the same water. While pond or cage aquaculture in arid environments is limited by the constraints of water supply and soil type, recirculating systems are unaffected
by soil type, use less than 1% of the water required by pond culture for the same yields and are efficient in terms of and utilization (Rakocy 1989) like the high-volume, flow-through systems….
The purpose of this work was to design and test a recirculating fish/vegetable coculture system with high efficiency of water use in production of quality food as well as high functional and technological simplicity.
The main features were a greatly increased hydroponic plant culture biofilter capacity relative to the fish rearing capacity compared with previous systems (Rakocy and Hargreaves 1993); also, the fish effluent, including solids, was pumped directly onto sand beds. The sand beds served as:
biofilters operating in the reciprocatingmode;
hydroponic plant growth substrate; and
the locus for oxidation of organic solids.
We have examined the water quality and general dynamics of the system as a function of the ratio of plant growth/ biofilter capacity to fish rearing capacity (McMurtry et al. 1997). In this paper we consider the effects of these four ratios of biofilter volume (BFV) to fish rearing tank volume (0.67/1, 1.00/1, 1.50/1 and 2.25/1) on the efficiency of water use in production of protein and food calories, and on the economic productivity of the system.
Abstract.-Fish and vegetable production were linked in a recirculating water system designed to achieve a high degree of efficiency of water use for
food production in addition to functional and technological simplicity. Hybrid tilapia Oreochromis mossambicus X O. niloticus L. were grown in tanks associated with biofilters (sand beds) in which tomatoes Lycopersicon esculentum were grown. The effect of four biofilter volume (BFV)/fish rearing tank volume ratios (0.67/1, 1.00/1, 1.50/1,2.25/1) on water use efficiency
was evaluated. ‘Laura’ (first experiment) or Kewalo’ tomatoes were grown 41m2 in biofilters of four different sizes and surface-irrigated 8 times daily with water from the associated fish tanks. Daily water consumption increased with BFV/tank ratios and with time. Fish production rates increased with biofilter volume in the first experiment, but were not significantly different in the second experiment. Total tomato fruit yield per plot increased from 13.7 to 31.7 kg (Experiment 1) and from 19.9 to 33.1 kg (Experiment 2) with increasing BFVItank ratio. For fish plus fruit, total energy production increased from 4,950 to 8,963 kcaU plot and from 4,804 to 7,424 kcallplot in Experiments 1 and 2, respectively, and protein production increased from 536 to 794 and from 352 to 483 g/plot in Experiments 1 and 2, respectively, with increasing BFVI tank ratio. Trends in water use efficiency for production of food energy (kcal/L) and of protein (g/L) in tomatoes and fish were complex. Water use efficiency for total energy production (fish plus fruit) did not significantly differ with biofilter volume. Economy of water use for total protein production (fish plus fruit) decreased significantly with increasing BFV/tank ratio. The component ratios of the system may be manipulated to favor fish or vegetable production according to local market trends or dietary needs, and thus may have economic potential in areas of limited water supply and high dand for quality food.’
From ‘Efficiency of Water Use of An Integrated Fish-Vegetable Co-Culture System,’ JOURNAL OF THE WORLD AQUACULTURE SOCIETY Vol. 28, NO.4, December, 1997
Since this was written many further advances have been made in making this technology, now called aquaponics, into a commercial and immensely water-efficient solution for areas with extreme and persistent water shortages. At the University of the Virgin Islands, where I was trained, their commercial aquaponic farm produces on average 5 metric tons of tilapia fish and at least that in vegetables (this varies depending on what is grown at the time). In a greenhouse, with vertical growing and the use of low energy grow lights, more biomass can be grown, but at the UVI, which is in the tropics, the system is outdoors.
The space taken up by the system covers only 1/8 of an acre (1/16 of a hectare).
This food is grown using 1.5% of the water normally required to produce that volume of food on that acreage. The UVI is in a Caribbean archipelago which is chronically short of water and arable land, so the whole system was developed to use MINIMAL QUANTITIES OF WATER.
It is a recirculating aquaculture and hydroponic system that recycles the water volume in which tilapia fish and plants live constantly throughout the system.
A clarifying unit removes the fish solids via a flushing procedure. This effluent is put into settlement ponds and dewatered, and the resulting fertile water and fish manure are used on field crops as irrigation water and organic fertilizer.
In the context of China’s water shortage, such units could be manufactured in bulk and rolled out to farmers all over the country with training in how to use them properly. This training is short, but very necessary since the techniques are not the same as conventional farming and require at least a high school level of scientific understanding to be effectively used. Otherwise systems will be deployed only to be abandoned as non-functional because their operatives do not understand how to use them in a water-efficient and food productive manner.
Aquaponics is a skill China desperately needs to save untold amounts of water and to ensure its future food supply. Its water use efficiency in fish rearing and vegetable farming make it a form of sustainable food production which is in sharp contrast to the methods currently used to feed most of China’s teeming billiions. Ironically, the aquaponic system as currently designed is actually just a techical upgrade on the traditional methods of fish rearing in rice paddies that were used in ancient China before the advent of artificial fertilizers and pesticides, which killed off this fish rearing practice since these artificial chemicals kill the fish. Artificial fertilizers are not necessary in an aquaponaic system, they kill the fish, and the fish waste is what feeds the plants in the hydroponic part of an aquaponic system. All chemical pesticides, even the ‘organic’ pyrethrin-based ones, kill the fish as well. You can only use modern organic biological pest control, such as friendly insects and bacteria, to control pests in aquaponics. However, this works very well and means that crops can be harvested soon after being treated for pests, unlike crops treated with toxic pesticides. This is sustainable food production with a very small environmental footprint, eminently suitable as a large part of the soution to China’s water crisis.
At Aquaponics Global, we can help with selection of appropriate systems and methodologies, and also with the design and implementation of fast-track training courses and with training trainers on water-efficient aquaponic systems once they are in place. There are also other greenhouse and recirculating aquaculture techniques such as biofloc tilapia aquaculture that also offer massive water savings in China’s water crisis at low cost and with fast roll-out times compared to more high-tech engineering water crisis solutions.
I also recommend the following books to anyone seriously considering setting up an aquaponic farm of any size:
You may have noticed that the price of basic foods keeps going up. You may hate thinking in percentages, but do the maths. Are your wages going up at the same rate as food prices?
If you are a farmer, are you getting the prices for the food that you grow, to afford the wages to keep pace with the rising cost of living? Could the land you are farming be intensively farmed enough using the methods you are currently using, to provide an income for you and your family adequate to cover food and living expenses at the current rate of price inflation? Is the agriculture you know sustainable and viable commercially? In the long term? Are you in sustainable food production? Please do the math!
The results of your calculations may well turn out to be disturbing. But what is happening here, in the West, has already happened in North Africa (the riots and revolutions were to a great extent sparked off by FOOD PRICES, since they could no longer afford to eat properly), much of Asia, South America, etc, etc… Their agriculture is out of synch with basic incomes. There is no sustainable food production in many of these places. Some of them have devoted so much acreage to export crops they have not grown enough to feed themselves!
People can’t afford to eat a balanced diet. In many of these places, it isn’t that the food isn’t available. It is that it is becoming too expensive. Essential parts of a balanced diet, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, are becoming beyond many people’s means. Organic food is often imported, and some of the most expensive food is organic.
There are two factors conspiring to cause this hike every year in food prices. One is climate change, which is afflicting farmers worldwide with weird and wild weather, droughts, floods, storms, and plagues. This is causing crop losses. Which means a lot of food that was exported worldwide, just isn’t now. It no longer is there to be trucked out. Agriculture as conventionally understood has failed in these places miserably. It has often become unsustainable, and people in these places have no source of sustainable food, let alone organic food.
The other factor is that certain deregulated banks, once banned from doing this, are now buying up food stocks and hoarding them until the price of these foods (corn, sugar, soybeans, wheat, and other staple crops) goes up enough for them to sell them and make a huge profit. Banks do not care if people starve because of the artificial scarcity of food they are causing. Banks like the scarcity. It puts up the price and they make more money. Banks are in business to make money, not to provide us with affordable food. The worldwide commodity markets make imported food sent to your country much more expensive than it should be. But why is agriculture in your country so inefficient that you have to import food in the first place? Imported food is expensive food! Some of the most expensive imported food is organic food.
Even in London, England, where I live, doctors in the poorer districts are now coming across children with the distended stomachs usually seen in Oxfam photos of African famine disasters. This stomach distension is a common symptom of malnutrition. It is not that these children have not eaten, it is just that they have been eating a poor diet with not enough vegetables, fruit, and high quality protein. High animal feed prices mean that meat has become a luxury in many poor households. Coupled with ignorance about dietary nutritional values, a diet of breakfast cereals, bread and jam can soon lead to health problems. Half of the food we eat in the UK is imported food. This puts up real food prices on food such as fruit and many vegetables. Why can’t we do more of our own food production? And why can’t we grow more organic food?
However, there is a sustainable food solution waiting around the corner. Much of the food which is most expensive is imported or in the case of locally produced meat, fed on imported animal feed. Yet new food production technologies for growing good clean food locally in massive quantities, with few expensive inputs, and on a much reduced necessary area, exist. Each city district could be using disused land and derelict buildings to grow all their own vegetables and fish, reducing the need for expensive imported food and trucked-in food. These sustainable food production technologies also use few staff, and should make locally grown food less expensive than imported food. It’s urgent that we decrease real food prices. Otherwise we will soon be paying the price of our folly in lives!
To make this sustainable food production technology more popular, a shift in dietary tastes needs to occur. People should be eating more sustainably produced freshwater fish such as tilapia and trout rather than the heart-unhealthy fatty meat and similarly unhealthy stodge they susbsist on today, to their wellbeing’s detriment. Eating more sustainably produced farmed fish would also help ocean fish, which are in danger of disappearing. Cheaper, fresher locally produced organic vegetables, eaten regularly, would prevent a lot of people from getting sick. Organic farming may be part of the solution, but it is doubtful whether organic farming as conventionally understood can produce enough food to get places like the UK unhooked from unsustainable imported food. However, there are food production technologies that can be certified organic, even though they do not use soil at all. You don’t need soil to farm organic food. You just need water for sustainable food production!
One of these local organic food production technologies, which translates well into an efficient and emission-free urban agriculture method, is called aquaponics. Established research at the University of the Virgin Islands in the United States and elsewhere has proven that, using aquaponic agriculture, you can grow five metric tons of tilapia and at least that much in vegetable biomass (given properly trained management) on 1/8 of an acre (1/16 of a hectare) in a year. This is done without using any soil, artificial fertilizer or chemical pesticides at all. All sorts of crops can be grown, including high-priced ones such as basil and other culinary herbs, also fancy lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and melons. The quality of the produce is very high and cropping is continuous on a ‘conveyor belt’ like system of floating rafts. Food prices for all this food are affordable, and the food is locally grown and sold locally, so it is fresher. This organic food is used as soon as it is harvested, and never gets into the hands of speculators and banks. It’s time we separated food production from food speculation!
The fish water feeds the plants and the plants in the hydroponic part of the aquaponic system clean the water for the fish. Most of the water is recycled in this form of agriculture. If you are keen to save water where you farm, aquaponic systems run in series can save 90% of the water you are currently using, to grow much more food per hectare, all year round in many cases. This means that with proper management, you can get a fast return on investing in your new aquaponic system and training, in as little as two years from turning on the pumps. After that, with continued close attention to standard operating procedures, you should soon be going into profit with this method of sustainable food production. This is a very efficient and clean form of agriculture.
Here at Aquaponics Global, we can help you do this, either over Skype or on a residency. We also conduct seminars and lectures if you would like to get together with other farmers in your area to invite us over on a tour to show you first hand what this is all about. It certainly isn’t rocket science but it DOES take a bit of retraining. If you have never looked after fish before, there is a lot to learn. And what fish would sell best in your area? Would you be able to shift 500 tilapia at a time? Should you kit up (and budget) for the more expensive trout production cycle instead? Considerations like this need to be taken into account. That fish water for the plants can’t be obtained without farming the fish! I am talking about intensively farming several thousand fish sustainably in the same system with hydroponic vegetable production. This is about maximum food production for minimum inputs in minimum time using minimum space and water.
Call us, leave a message or book an appointment to call if you are intrigued by the possibilities of this agricultural revolution. It’s called the Blue Revolution and it’s certainly here.
To learn more about aquaponic farming and how to construct and operate your own aquaponics system, I seriously suggest you read the following books, which also include a volume about how to build your own greenhouse, in which to do aquaponics in a cold climate: