According to a recently published report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), one in nine people — that is around 12% of our global population or 821 million people– go hungry everyday. Additionally, of the countries that experienced severe droughts since 2005, 36% also suffered from a rise in hunger. Through the innovations of many individuals, organizations, and researchers, we’re able to help address many of the issues relating to the future of food. Some of those issues include the limited space available for agriculture, harmful effects of herbicides and pesticides, biodiversity loss, and the decline in the quantity and quality of clean freshwater resources. As a result of these issues regarding food security, there’s been an increasing interest in using aquaponics, a crop fertilization technique that goes back to many ancient civilizations, as alternatives to conventional agriculture to feed our growing population.
If you’re not familiar with aquaponics, it is a system of food production that incorporates the elements of two sustainable forms of agriculture: hydroponics and aquaculture. Hydroponics is the growing of plants in water without soil and aquaculture is the farming of fish. Fish and plants have a natural relationship with each other that is also emulated in aquaponic systems where fish waste provides the plants with the important nutrients needed for them, along with bacteria, to purify the water which then benefits the fish.
If done correctly, you can grow plants in any climate system throughout the year even during drought conditions. As opposed to conventional agriculture, aquaponics requires a significantly smaller amount of water while still producing a large amount of food. In the United States, agriculture makes up 80% of all consumptive water use, but you can save up to 90% of that amount by using aquaponic systems since the water is constantly recycled in the closed-loop system. Plants spend a lot of energy searching for nutrients in conventional agriculture, but do not need to do that in the aquaponic system since the water in this system readily provides the plants with their essential nutrients. That saved energy then goes toward growing which is why faster productions are one of the many advantages of aquaponics. With conventional agriculture, you risk losing your crops due to pests that inhabit soil and weeds, but that does not occur in soil-less systems like aquaponics. So, with this system, you will not need synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, making it a sustainable form of agriculture. This is also ideal for the quality of our freshwater resources as you won’t have agricultural runoff polluting these nearby sources (you shouldn’t have runoff anyway since the water is constantly circulating through the system).
With the right support, these systems can successfully address the food related problems that are affecting us right now. With the use of aquaponics, you will have access to organic food that’s also grown in any space in your own community. In the future, people will no longer have to rely on food that’s travelled a great distance before reaching them. Unlike conventional agriculture, manual watering of plants and a lot of space is not necessary, which is why aquaponics have the potential to be a major player in the future as areas become more water stressed and sustainable agriculture gains more support.