The population of earth is expected to be 9.6 billion by 2050. We need to feed additional 2 billion people, a target which can only be achieved if we grow our food production levels up to 70% in the remaining 35 years. It is difficult, but not impossible due to technology progression in the field of farming in the last few years.
The agriculture setting differs greatly across the globe. Western countries have advanced technology and well-developed infrastructure on their side whereas much of Africa and South Asia is dependent upon weather conditions and absence of infrastructure and technology. The problems are many, but instigating smart urban farming is the solution. It makes more sense; as urban residents consist of 54% of the total population which should grow to 70% by 2050.
Humans have been growing crops and plants in water since time immemorial. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were an early depiction of aquaponics system. Aztecs also did it in the shallows of Tenochtitlan in the Valley of Mexico. South Asian rice crops also depend upon aquaponics method of cultivation.
To understand Aquaponics, you should know about Hydroponics, which is farming without any soil by growing plants in a liquid. Aquaponics is the upgrading of hydroponics by combining it with the concept of aquaculture (fish farming). It uses the waste water used by the fish and circulated in the hydroponic beds where plants are fed by taking nutrients out of this fish water. A filter is used which recycles the water constantly. The presence of certain microbes, that feed the plants, are the secret behind this method. The fish provides the nutrients for the plants and in return plants clean the water for the fish. A synergetic association is formed between fish and plant that balance each other.
Aquaponics system is suitable for both indoor and large outdoor setting. This method reduces water usage from 70-90% via recirculation, reduce fertilizer and pesticide dependence and help in optimal utilization of land with zero waste. It also helps meet demand for local fresh fish. Aquaponics gives 10 times more produce and has 30 % faster time to harvest.
Almost all kinds of plants can be grown in aquaponics’ environment. Herbs and greens are most common crops. Aquaponics solves the problems related to scarcity of land and water resources because it produces more than 5 times the crops and uses a lot less water than normal agriculture crop. An experimental aquaponics system used by Virgin Island University occupies only .12 acres and can produce more crop than a normal one-acre land can produce. These alternative methods are required to produce high-quality food in great quantity to fulfill future requirements.
Growing crop on a commercial level and combine this with fish production at large scale is difficult to achieve. Aquaponics is moving from the realm of experimental to large scale commercial use. The European Union and other sponsors are funding it to improve the system to get better results in reducing water usage and cutting costs of fertilizer and pesticides. Aquaponics is combined with eco-friendlier solar energy projects and already existing fish farms to get better results in short span of time. In futuristic point of view, aquaponics will continuously gain importance as bio-integrated food production system, an urban-friendly technology and a viable farming technique.