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Aquaponics for Middle East

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Aquaponics require only 5% of the usual water intake for growing Food, Feed, Herbs, Fish and other high-value agri products. It is a revolutionary concept already adopted by UAE by creating one of the largest farms in the world. Interesting reading and great business potential.

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Aquaponics for Middle East

  1. 1. Aquaponics Page 1 LATEST DISRUPTIVE AGRI-TECHNOLOGY AQUAPONICS Grow Fish, Vegetables/Food and Feed Save, Space, Time and Money 16 October 2014(Updated Aug.2015) By: Mohammed Abdulkhader, CEO CoreValue Industrial and Business Consultants Pvt Ltd-Hyderabad (Ex-Banker-Corporate/Industrial) Member-FAPCCI Industrial Development Committee Email: mak@corevalue.in Introduction: One of the largest Aquaponics Farm is located in Abu Dhabi with Japanese, Holland and German support. This is a curious news and encouraged further dig into the Aquaponics. Very few might have heard about this new portable farming technology called Aquaponics. In simple words it is a combined process of Fishing and soil-less farming integration and gives significantly high yields with minimum inputs and NO LOSS OF WATER. In a further simple explanation: Grow plants with roots in water, circulating water via a fish tank. Fish creates waste, water circulates and creates rich plant feed, which then goes to the plant. The process can be called as high-performance agriculture. Some predict Aquaponics will be the future of Organic farming. The output is pure, clean, natural and 100% organic. The process is sustainable, doable at a localized level, compact, easily manageable with limited means or it can be developed at commercial scale in acres. Aquaponics can be set up in any climate, any season, and any location and in any environment. It can be done indoors, backyard, building rooftop, terrace, balcony space, kitchen garden, large window space and corridors, even with less than an hour involvement. On a commercial scale (in acres and hectors) in both controlled and open air environs. Aquaponics is already giving impressive results. This is a technology that represents a small managed “ecosystem”
  2. 2. Aquaponics Page 2 comprising a highly productive balance of fish, bacteria and plants. Productivity can be year-round. Once will not be surprised to see the Aquaponics growth in future, similar to what it has been to the poultry. Poultry is now a mechanical production industry, same like a factory product. This interesting development happening in the world of Organic Farming by integrating the use of latest knowledge/technology in in-house farming combining Aquaculture and Aquaponics processes. Aquaponics is the combination of Aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as snails, fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks) and Hydroponics (growing plants in water or soil-less environment), in a carefully designed, hyper-productive closed-loop system and symbiotic environment. The absence of soil completely eliminates soil organisms and weeds. Comparatively, Aquaculture is a bit complex when compared with Hydroponics but the overall yield, results and achievements are encouraging in Aquaponics, especially no waste and fish produce as the second source of revenue, the first being vegetables/feed/herbs etc. Research data so far available says that the Aquaponics produce can be 8 to 10 times higher than traditional farming with lesser per capita crop costs. Due to widespread interest in local sustainable food and feed initiatives, and growing awareness that Aquaponics may allow for the production of vegetables, animal feed and fish in water-deficient or soil-deficient zones competitively, its future is bright and we could expect high growth in future with major commercial Aquaponics plants. Aquaponics processes are scalable to meet and fit any investment size – from table- top size to large-scale hi-tech on a number of acres and involving a number of technical and non-technical staff. There is no pesticide, no fungicide, no fertilizer, no watering the plant, no bending down to weed, and you produce food, and feed and fish year-round, no matter how the climate or soil conditions. This can also work great in the Middle East, Sahara Desert or in Antarctica. In India also it is now gradually being adopted by farmers and entrepreneurs in water-deficient locations, given its benefits in terms of space, resources, organic quality, quick payback period and RoI and overall benefits. Aquaponics systems come in a wide variety of forms, ranging from a simple fish tank set below a gravel filled vegetable bed (which also serves as a simple biofilter), with water from the fish tank pumped up and through the grow bed; to highly sophisticated systems incorporating multiple fish tanks, solid waste removal systems, aerobic and anaerobic biofilters, intensive aeration systems for both plants and fish, and sophisticated water quality monitoring and backup. Aquaponics systems can be built in various sizes, applying economies of scale, from small indoor/outdoor units to large commercial units, using the same processes and technology. The systems usually
  3. 3. Aquaponics Page 3 contain fresh water, but salt water systems are plausible depending on the type of aquatic animal and which plants or fish to be produced. Technicals: How Aquaponics work? It’s actually all quite simple. The below diagram shows its simplest form of Aquaponics process and the Nitrogen cycle: http://homeaquaponicssystem.com/
  4. 4. Aquaponics Page 4 http://aquaponichowto.com Step by Step Process of Aquaponics: Aquaponics involve worms, bacteria, nitrites, nitrates, ammonia. With the help of nitrogen-fixing bacteria and worms it will breakdown the fish waste (faeces) into nitrates and nitrites that can be absorbed by the plants as natural nutrients. The resulting and residue clean water is then recirculated into the aquaculture tank. The nitrogen cycle is what powers Aquaponics. There are several key movements in the overall nitrogen cycle, but the ones who tie it all together are nitrifying bacteria. Fish feed is the primary source of nitrogen input in Aquaponics system. The main input in an Aquaponics system is 1) Fish food 2) power for running of electric pumps that recirculate the water as needed. Water requirement is only 2 to 5% compared with the traditional cultivation. Any loss, mainly from transpiration by plants and evaporation is nominal and can be replenished. Waste disposal is very minimum and organic. No issues with its disposal. Average fish feed ratio is avg 1% of fish weight i.e. 10 KG live fish needs 100 gr fish feed per day. There is no such thing as a self-balanced Aquaponics system. Maintaining a healthy, productive Aquaponics system requires closer monitoring, making necessary adjustments when necessary and routinely checking system's water temperature, pH, and ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels. The bacteria that is cultured in the grow beds helps to break down impurities and as a result, nitrogen remains, which is an essential nutrient for plants. The plant roots filter the water which now contains nutrients for the fishes, and is pumped back down to the fishes. The cycle then repeats itself.
  5. 5. Aquaponics Page 5 Fish waste being a general organic fertilizer, a variety of plants can be grown together in Aquaponics. In a well-established system, the different components such as fish, worms, plants and various bacteria form a great, natural ecosystem that resists diseases and the need to use any fertilizer. One of the most important principles of Aquaponics systems is their reliance on beneficial bacteria. These bacteria function in the conversion of ammonia to nitrate via the nitrogen cycle. Unfortunately, the mention of “bacteria” often conjures up thoughts of “germs,” so we need to distinguish between helpful microbes and the pathogens that are harmful. Both in nature and in aquaculture, fish excrete ammonia from their gills as part of their waste-elimination metabolism. This Ammonia is then converted into nitrite and then to nitrate by beneficial bacteria (such as Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter species) in a natural process. When plant roots find nitrate in the solution around their roots, it is consumed by plants and converted into amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. In contrast to the beneficial bacteria that help turn fish waste products into plant food, a disease called zoonoses is sometimes appears. Zoonoses are diseases of animals, caused by bacteria and other organisms that can be transmitted to humans. Zoonotic pathogens represent a health risk to people contacting the water used in an Aquaponics system or to people consuming food that has zoonotic pathogens on them. If the water you are using contains E. coli, salmonella, or other pathogens, one must take immediate steps to address potential contamination issues. These are minor risks and rare examples but necessary precautionary measures are taken for overall safety of produce, plants, fish and the staff operating the system. It is a best practice to source Aquaponics production water only from potable sources. It is absolutely fine and advisable to flush “used” or excess fish effluent water which can be pumped into soil to irrigate and fertilize grassy areas, landscape plants, or crops such as papaya and banana trees. Being the more sustainable and profitable system of food and feed generation, Aquaponics is the future of alternative agriculture. Even though the initial cost of setting up a complete system is higher, once established, it runs like clockwork with minimal recurring inputs – the only regular raw material purchase is the fish feed. Baby fish or Fish fingerlings are to be sourced through reliable source, at the start of the cycle. Imbalances in an Aquaponics system are rectified by adding either more fish to meet additional demand for nutrients, or more plants for enhanced process of cleaning the
  6. 6. Aquaponics Page 6 water. Thorough understanding of the symbiotic relationship between all the components is necessary to take appropriate decisions. It is important to keep warm-blooded animals (birds, dogs, cats, rats, sheep, goats, ducks, cattle, pigs, etc.) away from the commercial produce, because they may contain pathogens harmful to humans. Placing netting over the produce area will reduce animal-to-plant contact. Keeping your production tanks off the ground will also limit access by animals. Aquaponics has a history of about 20 years, with major research done in the US and then in various parts of the world. Due to growing concerns on water scarcity, food and feed safety initiatives and to improve the yields, there is more focus on Aquaponics now. The level of research for Aquaponics processes is in passing thru stages and Aquaponics growers and entrepreneurs are learning new techniques thru trial and error while experimenting new challenges. Some large-scale farms, e.g. one in UAE (the largest Aquaponics farm in the world!) and in other western countries have adopted various advanced techniques employing highly qualified agricultural experts. For Aquaponics, well known Consultants are must for atleast first year, then training can be arranged for inhouse staff. Aquaponics is a bit technical process and must have relatively qualified agriculture engineers and graduates to supervise. ITEMS THAT CAN BE GROWN in AQUAPONICS You can grow nearly all edible vegetables and animal feed as well as fruits with: • No chemicals • No pesticides • 100% organic A few items already tried and tested in different locations are the following. However, Aquaponics Consultants can guide for further produce or varieties:  Tomato  Watermelon  Brinjal  Lettuce (used in Salad)  Cabbage  Capsicum  Cucumber  Carrots & Root Vegetables  Sprouts  Strawberry.
  7. 7. Aquaponics Page 7  Leafy Greens  Legumes  Melons and Squashes  Berries  Herbs of various kinds  Peppers  Some tropical fruit trees  Wheatgrass and micro greens and high value feed items One of the quickest-yield vegetables one can get out in Aquaponics system is lettuce (Large Salad Leaves). Reaching peak maturity at around 28 days, lettuce grows ideally in floating beds. The consumption of salads and lettuce is rapidly increasing. In Aquaponics vegetables grows atleast 2 times faster and you can plant quickly compared to conventional methods, and maintaining the populated area of the grow- beds. One can get full size lettuce leaves in 28 days. And get cabbage large size in 5 weeks. In about 60 days, Aquaponics growers can have a full harvest of delicious carrots. They have a very well defined optimal growing temperature, at between 59 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit, although they are capable of growing in extreme temperatures in both directions. Wicking beds provide the perfect growing environment for carrots and other root vegetables. Such beds can also be horizontal upto 10-12 feet. It means that 1 square meter of Aquaponics is the equivalent of 7 to 8 square meters of land. It uses very little electricity. Plans to build an Aquaponics system are available on the Internet. Tomatoes are well worth the wait, taking around 3 months to reach peak maturity depending on the strain and variety. Like beans, they grow best in a media bed at a temperature of 20-35 Centigrade. In order to ensure the highest yield from tomato plants, be sure to trim off all shoots, leaving just the main vine. This will ensure that the bulk of the plant’s nutrients are delivered to the tomatoes once they begin to form. With an Aquaponics system, the ability to grow edible and feed plants is limited only by our own desire to do so. The system does most of the labour that would be required in an ordinary in-ground growing operation, so one can spend time on more important issues like scheduling harvests and finding new and interesting applications for the crops. When done correctly, it should be able to maintain a constantly rotating supply of organic, pesticide-free vegetables that can carry on indefinitely in a properly maintained system.
  8. 8. Aquaponics Page 8 Fish varieties: Since the process involves fish and vegetables side by side within the cycle, following known Fish varieties have been tested and tried in Aquaponics: 1) Tilapia Recommended To Eat: Yes Easy to bread Fast Growing Can withstand very poor water conditions Require warm water 2) Trout Recommended To Eat: Yes Great for cool temperatures (10°C -20°C) Very fast growth rate Excellent food conversion ratio 3) Goldfish Recommended To Eat: No Aquarium fish 4) Carp Recommended To Eat: Yes Good reproductive capabilities Can adapt easily in various environments 5) Catfish Recommended To Eat: Yes Need to be skinned because they don’t have scales Fast growing Good food conversion ratio 6) Koi Recommended To Eat: No Can thrive in an Aquaponics system Long life span Great resistance against common parasite Popular for ornamental purposes and for aquariums 7) Largemouth Bass Recommended To Eat: Yes Very varied diet Small largemouth bass tastier in low temperature water.
  9. 9. Aquaponics Page 9 Catla, Murrel and Rohu are most expensive and profitable for commercial activity. So far Tilapia is tested and tried mostly. The writer is not an expert in Fisheries but data accumulation on fish is from data research. The Commercials: Aquaponics is in commercial terms, capitalization of a natural process for overall benefit, product-wise, health-wise, money-wise. There is no hard and fast rule in investing such ventures. Since Aquaponics flourished from a backyard farming hobby and then moved on to commercial scale, there is no cap on capital investment. In US and other Western Countries, people have taken it as hobby and spend good time in building the complete Aquaponics system from scratch. There are few instances of commercial operations US and in India. A potential farmer can plan for a 500 kg of fish output in a pond with 10,000 litres of water in the backyard area of 450 sq.ft). The equipment costs depend on local quotations. For commercial operations, a minimum of 450 Sqft. is suggested by an Aquaponics expert for 5,000 kg of fish output, using about 50,000 litres of water and an investment of approx. US$6,000 to 7000, depending on local cost structure. This investment can be recovered within a year from the fish and vegetable harvests, depending upon harvest yield prices. These estimates are indicative only, while a serious business plan must be made to estimate actual cost of fittings, input costs and a broad estimate of output for a commercial venture. If this is a hobby-like activity, there should not be a cost consideration for doing a hobby, but only look at one own budget. For a commercial project, there are many qualified and experienced consultants available in US, Japan, Germany and India who can guide for a project of varying size, depending upon investors capabilities. Critical Success Factors  Regular knowledge update.  Potential Partnership with similar Growers, Research labs, Government bodies.  Maintain consultancy of the right people for atleast 2 to 3 seasons/cycles.  Regular Cleaning and maintaining of grow-beds  Maintain Water PH levels. Water Chemistry knowledge is must.  Check and Improve Fish to Plant Ratio for ammonia balance.  Commitment to spend reasonable time to look after the living beings. Industry Analysis
  10. 10. Aquaponics Page 10 Aquaponics industry is in early stage of wider recognition and passing through new revelations and new experiences. Barriers to entering this industry are low in terms of finance, economies of scale. The only suppliers that have bargaining power in this industry are fingerling (baby fish) suppliers. On the buyers’ side, there is good and growing market, so no bargaining power of buyers. There is absolutely no rivalry among the industry players. In fact, they have to work closely together to improve operational excellence by sharing knowledge and experience. There can be threat from similar process research in the industry but the output out of this process should further improve the productivity. In the nutshell, prospects are extremely bright for Aquaponics. I will not be surprised, one day most of the fish aquariums will run on Aquaponics. In the US, a company already sells inhouse Aquarium sets that run on Aquaponics. Overall, the potential for Aquaponics can be comparable with poultry industry. Aquaponics might become an industry in future, same like what happened to poultry and chicken production. Backyard gardening, balcony vegetables, parking side fruits may be a reality once Aquaponics is widely adopted. Market Size/Competition  The products or output from Aquaponics farming are organic, high-quality and free from any pesticides use. Organic products have special market and prices are much higher than the traditional product range, be it vegetables, herb or fruit. Therefore financial gains are expected to be encouraging vs traditional products.  The mantra these days is “be wealthy but with health”, otherwise what is the use of wealth if no health to enjoy. In fact, health itself is a very valuable wealth, realized only when someone gets ill. So, the search for Organic and pesticide-free goods are on the rise. Consumers are willing to pay higher for such type of products. Size of the market is difficult to be quantified but the bigger market is in urban areas and demand for such Aquaponics processes is more in water-scared regions.  Competition for Organic produce is relatively low. Therefore, more and more farmers can switch to Aquaponics – but utilizing the best operational systems to reduce any losses in the output. The Challenges and Risks:
  11. 11. Aquaponics Page 11 Though the Aquaponics have a history of over 25 years, it has mostly been a hobby and backyard activity. In recent years this is being adopted at commercial scale. Some of the points raised here are more related to a commercial venture. A reasonable commercial system up and running profitably, requires hands-on involvement of an experienced Aquaponics Consultant or Advisor. Some challenges:  Least support from any state or central government for Aquaponics.  Sourcing and availability of quality seeds and fish fingerlings all year around.  Costs related to project’s finance/operations, electricity costs and labour costs are major considerations. The grower has to carefully monitor these for better financial gains.  Determine Fish to Plant Ratio – currently mostly, randomly done with little research on it. Both Fish and Plants require certain levels of feed and nitrates. Any shortfall will result in lower growth – both plants and Fish.  Determine average plant density.  Maintain water reasonably warm year around - circulating  Prepare for air-borne diseases combat  Synchronization of fish waste, clean water levels and nitrates quantity in line with plant/fish needs.  Heat and Pump use on Solar energy – goodbye to power shortages.  Lower the wattage requirements to the minimum and build PV system.  Food Certification (wherever required) to prove the claims of organic process and other local certifications.  Select the best plants to grow year around that will yield the highest profit.  Professional “Go to Market” strategy for best financial results from the yield.  Fast handling, storage and distribution of perishable products.  Data and knowledge sharing with similar farmers.  Financing for large-scale operations by investors/government bodies.  Trained agricultural engineers/staff.  Finally, a major challenge is growing shrimps profitably in Aquaponics. By following some simple, basic sanitation procedures, the grower can significantly minimize this risk. Key areas of consideration include human sanitation harvesting produce safely managing warm-blooded animal faeces, water sources for fish and prevention from zoonoses and zero waste treatment. Next Steps:  Interested hobbyists, entrepreneurs, farmers/growers, land owners, farm owners, large house owners, apartment owners, please accumulate reasonable amount of information to evaluate the proposal in terms of overall benefits. They can form working groups or societies for such collective ventures. Knowledge and experience sharing is a must for such ventures.
  12. 12. Aquaponics Page 12  Visit a nearby operating Aquaponics farm. In India there are many operating plants of different scale; such as a newest commercial scale Aquaponics farm just started operating on 6 acres of land - only 65 KMs away from Hyderabad.  Anyone can install a backyard version of one of these Aquaponics Systems in their backyard/rooftop/patio and grow with more abundance. It is time to solve issues such as, arrest vegetable prices, grow our own food items, and consume healthy products. Anyone can do it, once you learn how. In conclusion, it will be a service to humanity by way of adopting such a process and technical knowhow which give us so many benefits, direct and indirect.