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Aquaponics

1Photo author Rachel Boyce

By now, everyone has an understanding of the impact of climate change. Climate change has caused NGOS, private organizations, governments and individuals to think of creative ways to combat imminent problems. “Climate-smart” agriculture has also become part of the global conversation on solutions.

Under the caption: “Harvest the Future, Innovations in Climate-Smart Agriculture for Small Scale Producers”, INMED hosted a conference in Montego Bay Jamaica, from June 14-17, 2015. The event provided yet another opportunity for agriculture and climate change professionals to present their work, offer best practices and as always, to share ideas.

One initiative presented and which warrants special mention is aquaponics farming. Although this type of farming may be new to those in our region, they have been early accounts among the Aztecs as well as South China, Thailand and Indonesia.

The origin of Aquaponics however is less important than its purpose and its impact on climate smart agriculture. For the novice, Aquaponics is a food production system that combines conventional aquaculture such as fishing with hydroponics (growing plants in water) in a symbiotic environment. In an aquaponics system, water from an aquaculture system is fed to a hydroponic system where the by-products are broken down by nitrification bacteria into nitrates and nitrites, which are utilized by the plants as nutrients. The water is then recirculated back to the aquaculture system. Phenomenal!

The INMED conference provided an opportunity for a visit to two aquaponics farms which gave participants first-hand insight to the development of this innovative and inexpensive food production technique in Jamaica. The places visited included the Knockalva Agricultural School in Hanover and Cave in Westmoreland.

Here are a few of the highlights on aquaponics:

  1. Uses 75% less energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Solar power can also be used to further reduce energy use and emissions.
  2. Uses up to 95% less water than regular irrigation. Rain water is also often used with catchment systems.
  3. Aquaponics systems require significantly less labor than regular farming. This therefore opens doors to women, youth and even disabled persons as food producers.
  4. Allows for the production of high value crops. These include a variety of seafood and other crops such as basil, mint and thyme.
  5. Produces crops which are easy to cultivate. The most popular aqua-product is tilapia and the most popular vegetables are lettuce and pak choi that require minimal effort.
  6. Resilient against extreme weather. The systems are built in such a way which prevents crops from being “washed away” with heavy rains and also from the effect of high temperatures.
  7. Requires low capital investment. It is estimated that it takes just $10 000 USD to start up a new small system allowing aquaponics farms to be far cheaper and more reliable than a second hand car.

2Photo author Rachel Boyce

The development of aquaponics in Jamaica is definitely a move in the right direction toward climate-change agriculture.  It’s innovative, intensive, yet inexpensive nature allows small farmers to do much more with much less. What else can proponents of climate change agriculture ask for? Not only does it encapsulate the emergent issue of climate change but it does so in a way that supports food security, another embryonic issue on the global agenda!

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