With a continually growing population comes a growing demand for food, putting extra pressure on the food system to supply for the needs of the people. Traditional agricultural methods require huge amounts of land, space and energy, resources which are limited. Along with this, soil depletion is a concern for the sustainability of these methods. As a result, food prices are increasing which is becoming problematic for families and their ability to purchase healthy and fresh food. Another concern is where our food comes from. Food miles are the measurement of how far foods have travelled from producer to consumer; supermarket foods can travel from all over the world to reach our shelves, which produces harmful emissions.
So, moving our thoughts to the future, is there a system which could solve these issues and reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint whilst still providing for a growing population?
In fact, the solution could lie with a concept called Aquaponics, the combination of Aquaculture (fish farming) and Hydroponics (growing plants in water). The inputs to this system are simple: fish, food and electricity. Fish and plants grow together in a closed and controlled environment, and the products are totally organic! Grown in soilless conditions, the nutrients needed for the plants to grow come from the fish poo: Phosphorous, Potassium and Nitrogen. A problem found with Aquaculture is ammonia levels in the water, as this is excreted from fish gills and harmful to them. However, the naturally-occurring microorganisms in an Aquaponic system convert this into Nitrogen for further nutrients for the plants to absorb. These nutrients provided from the fish waste act as natural fertiliser, eliminating the need for synthetic chemicals. The water is pumped from the tanks to the plants, and the plants purify the water which keeps the whole system happy and ensures minimal upkeep. With the continuous recycling of water and the direct application of water to the plants, it makes the process very efficient.
Leafy greens and fish such as Tilapia are considered the best start-up products, with people moving to other varieties of both products as they become more comfortable with the system. The fish can be harvested at 6 months old and consumed or sold as a food source, with crops growing quicker than with traditional farming methods.
So, could the future of farming lie solely with Aquaponics? Maybe not solely, but it’s definitely an exciting concept to support and reduce the demand for traditional agricultural methods. The system is so flexible; they can be as big or as small as required, and they can be placed anywhere from rooftops, abandoned buildings or on barren land. With limited fertile land available, Aquaponics can be moved into cities and bring fresh produce to urban areas, reconnecting consumers with where their food comes from. Reduced food miles would also lessen the amount of spoilage that occurs in the transportation process, reducing food waste and providing better quality products. Denser planting of crops means that more is grown in less space, and a higher yield is gained, increasing the efficiency of agriculture. With further funding and support, I can see this successfully expanding in the future to provide an alternative for consumers.