We have witnessed innovation and constant development in traditional farming. New technology is being introduced to improve the method of cultivation. Until humans are alive on this planet, demand for agriculture produce will keep on rising as we are developing day by day.
Over the last century, the global population has quadrupled. In 1915, there were 1.8 billion people in the world. Today, according to the most recent estimate by the UN, there are 7.3 billion people — and we may reach 9.7 billion by 2050. This growth, along with rising incomes in developing countries (which cause dietary changes such as eating more protein and meat) are driving up global food demand.
Food demand is expected to increase anywhere between 59% to 98% by 2050. This will shape agricultural markets in ways we have not seen before. Farmers worldwide will need to increase crop production, either by increasing the amount of agricultural land to grow crops or by enhancing productivity on existing agricultural lands through fertilizer and irrigation and adopting new methods like precision farming.
But that creates a major concern for the climate of earth as it will require more land mass for crop production which will be acquired from rainforest. Currently Amazon rainforest which also termed as “lungs of earth” is shrinking due to large number of area being utilized for cattle farming and crop production. This will impact our whole environmental activities which will become havoc for the upcoming generation.
What is Aquaponics?
Aquaponics is a food production system that couples agriculture (raising aquatic animals such as fish, crayfish, and prawns in tanks) with hydro ponics (cultivating plants in water) whereby the nutrient-rich aquaculture water is fed to hydroponically grown plants, where nitrifying bacteria convert ammonia into nitrates.
As existing hydroponic and aquaculture farming techniques form the basis of all aquaponic systems, the size, complexity, and types of foods grown in an aquaponic system can vary as much as any system found in either distinct farming discipline.
In simple words, a form of ecosystem where fish farming and crop farming is conducted where fish creates waste which is being used by the crops to grow. Waste created by fish is filled with essential nutrients and ammonia which helps crops to grow in healthy manner. It provides a hybrid form of farming where less water is required to grow the crops.
How does it work?
Aquaponics is divided into two main parts wherein fish are stored in a specified tank with ideal water temperature for them to grow. And another is grow-bed for crops and vegetables which get nutrients from water in which fish are kept. As soon as water tank is filled by the waste of fish, the water is transferred to the crops without any specific process or added nutrients. Later, plants extract essential nutrients from water to grow and then water is re-transferred to fish tank with some purification process.
This creates a healthy eco-system and less water is required to grow fish as well as crops and vegetables.
Components of Aquaponics
Many plants are suitable for aquaponic systems, though which ones work for a specific system depends on the maturity and stocking density of the fish. These factors influence the concentration of nutrients from the fish effluent and how much of those nutrients are made available to the plant roots via bacteria. Green leaf vegetables with low to medium nutrient requirements are well adapted to aquaponic systems, including chinese cabbage, lettuce, basil, spinach, chives, herbs, and watercress.
Plants that are common in salads have some of the greatest success in aquaponics, including cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, capsicum, read salad onions and snow peas. Other species of vegetables that grow well in an aquaponic system include basil, coriander, fenugreek, lemongrass, okra, carrots, radish, onion, sweet potato, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, and ginger.
Fish or other aquatic creatures
Freshwater fish are the most common species of fish which are used in aquaponics due to their ability to tolerate crowding. Even freshwater crayfish and prawns are also sometimes used. These fresh water fish keeps on changing according to the geographical conditions.
If we take the example of freshwater fish of India, we find varieties in each state. Some of the common freshwater fish found in the Indian rivers and lakes are Rohu, Catla, Mrigal, Tor Tor, Hilsa, Pulasa, Kajuli, Tialpia, and Rani.
History of Aquaponics
According to the information available on Wikipedia “Aquaponics has ancient roots, although there is some debate on its first occurrence:
• Aztec cultivated agricultural islands known as chinampas in a system considered by some to be an early form of aquaponics for agricultural use, where plants were raised on stationary (or sometime movable) islands in lake shallows and waste materials dredged from the Chinampa canals and surrounding cities were used to manually irrigate the plants.
• South China and the whole of Southeast Asia, where rice was cultivated and farmed in paddy fields in combination with fish, are cited as examples of early aquaponics systems, although the technology had been brought by Chinese settlers who had migrated from Yunnan around 5 AD.
Why we should look forward to grow in Aquaponics?
We saw earlier how the population has evolved in last one century and we have predictions on how the population will grow in next 20-30 years. As the demand rise, farmers will strive for chemical fertilizers and pesticides to increase the yield in farms. This will not help in the long run as we will start losing our fertile soil and the production might get hampered. Due to this, demand will surge high and supply will be less.
To have a better alternative, Aquaponics can solve the issue of high quality food. It can provide us fish which are filled with nutrients and one of the most essential elements for human body ‘fish oil’. Side-by-side we grow chemical free vegetables and crops which are best for human body.
Key-features of Aquaponics
• Aquaponics relies on the recycling of nutrient-rich water continuously. In aquaponics, there is no toxic run-off from either hydroponics or aquaculture.
• Aquaponics uses 1/10th of the water of soil-based gardening and even less water than hydroponics or recirculating aquaculture.
• No harmful petrochemicals, pesticides or herbicides can be used. It’s a natural ecosystem.
• Gardening chores are cut down dramatically or eliminated. The aquaponics grower is able to focus on the enjoyable tasks of feeding the fish and tending to and harvesting the plants.
• Aquaponic systems can be put anywhere, use them outside, in a greenhouse, in your basement, or in your living room. By using grow-lighting, and space can become a productive garden.
Aquaponics have the capacity to solve our food shortage problem. For that, we need to have constant research in it. Being an agriculture country, India and its major agriculture universities should step ahead in this and create a healthy environment for aquaponics in order to diversify traditional chemical farming methods.
Aquaponics is not just about utilising fish water; we can sell those fish as well to increase our income. This could lead us to diversify farmer’s portfolio and generate income from one model of farming.