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Aquaponics: the future of agriculture?

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Aquaponics: the future of agriculture?

Aside from the wonderful tastes and smells of the world which have permeated the EXPO Milano 2015, the exposition, as featured in its slogan, is dedicated towards developing sustainable farming to feed an ever-growing population, and resolve the unfair distribution of food.

The best and brightest from all over the world have presented their solutions to tackle these contemporary issues for us, and future generations, to benefit from. 

And it is here that we stumbled across an innovative idea for the future of farming. Aquaponics has been lurking in the shadows for some time already, and perhaps the time has come to shed some light on it.

What is Aquaponics?

This innovative farming technique combines two other simple and timeless methods: Aquaculture, breeding aquatic animals in tanks, and Hydroponics, cultivating plants in water, creating a symbiotic environment of mutual benefit and dependence to plants and fish alike.

Although very intricate-sounding, the Aquaponic system is really very simple. Here is how it works: 

Ammonia-rich fish waste accumulates in the fish tank, potentially toxic to the fish, making them inedible for human beings. The waste water from the tank is pumped into a flood tank. When enough water has accumulated, the tank releases this nutrient-rich water into grow beds of an assortment of plants. Bacteria, cultured in the grow beds, breaks down the ammonia by a biological process into nitrites and then nitrates, which the plants feed on. The plants help filter the water, which is then aerated and pumped back into the fish tank, for the process to repeat itself.

This Aquaponics and Earth diagram (an NGO dedicated towards spreading knowledge of this simple yet effective technology) illustrates the process of Aquaponics. 

Aquaponic farming has several benefits, the obvious one being the ability to grow plants and fish for human consumption in one system. An aquaponic system consumes approximately one-tenth of the water used by conventional soil farming, as the water is cleaned and recycled back into the system, resulting in a lower energy consumption. The system has faster growth rates and produces significantly higher yields, as plants are not affected by soil-born diseases, and no chemicals - pesticides or fertilizers - are used in the process: making for a healthier and safer produce.

Plants which are currently being grown through Aquaponics include: most varieties of lettuce and herbs, watercress, tomatoes, cucumber, squash, zucchini, peppers, broccoli, melons and strawberries.

Common fish species which can be reared in the fish tanks include, but are not limited to: perch, trout, talapia, catfish, pacu, oscars, koi, goldfish and some other species of aquarium fish, and freshwater prawns.

This didactic Purdue University video explains what Acquaponic farming is, and introduces us to the practice and guidelines for starting an Acqaponics activity.  

Some startups, like the Home Aquaponics Kit based in Oakland, CA, are selling portable Aquaponic systems: to have fresh vegetables and fish directly in your home, all-year round, and to raise awareness of the importance of the invaluable resources of our planet. 

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