Age of aquaponics dawns on Namibia

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Windhoek

The worst water crisis ever facing the City of Windhoek saw the launch of the Namibia Future Farming Trust’s third aquaponics growing centre at Dagbreek School for the Intellectually Impaired in Windhoek last week.

With it came great enthusiasm to establish this ingenious way of farming countrywide.

A donation of more than N$2 million by the Finish Embassy and contributions by various other sponsors got the aquaponics ball rolling last year. Since then three growing centres have been established in Windhoek.

Aquaponic cultivation method is a combination of aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (soilless plant culture) in a closed system. In aquaponics, the nutrient-rich water that results from raising fish provides a source of natural fertiliser for the growing plants and the system uses 90 percent less water than traditional farming methods.

Namibia’s potential for crop production is severely limited by climatic and soil conditions, as well as its scarce water resources. The expected human population growth, and increased urbanisation rate in Namibia call for preventative measures now.

Innovative farming techniques, such as demonstrated by the aquaponics projects, can significantly contribute towards food security, alleviate poverty and provide income opportunities in Namibia on an environmentally sustainable basis.

The NFFT’s quest is to research and find solutions to uplift the quality of life of people burdened by poverty, malnutrition, poor education and limited income opportunities.

Finnish Ambassador Anne Saloranta told Farmers Forum that aquaponics could be an effective weapon in the battle against climate change, food insecurity and malnutrition. The Finnish project implemented last year, in conjunction with the NFFT, worth over N$2 million is called the ‘Aquaponics for Improved Nutrition and Employment’.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) 42.3 percent of Namibians are undernourished.

The chairperson of NFFT, Johan de Waal, pointed out that according to Nutrition Action Group’s 2013 Namibian Demographic Health Survey (NDHS), 26% of under-five children are stunted, 8% are severely stunted, 13% are underweight and 6% are wasted.

“Children who are stunted become less productive adults with lower earning capacity over their lifetime than children who are not stunted,” he remarked.

The collaboration between NFFT and the Finnish Embassy Fund for Local Cooperation seeks solutions towards the eradication of malnutrition and poverty and has identified aquaponics as a farming technique that can significantly contribute towards this goal.

With aquaponics, plants grow faster and in less space, and because fresh nutrients continually brought to the plants roots in a very accessible form there is less need for the plant to expend valuable energy ‘mining’ for nutrients. Also there is less root ‘competition’. Hence plants grow faster and often need half the space than in soil-based gardening.

 

Aquaponics also take local food cultivation to a new level. In a world where our average fruits and vegetables travel thousands of kilometres to reach us, it offers fresh, organic, and nutritious food at our fingertips. No more talking about food miles, now we’re talking food feet, the NFFT says.

Aquaponics is scalable. In urban environments where space is a valuable commodity, it can come in all shapes and sizes. You can have a small system that fits on your desk or inhabits a windowsill, or a full greenhouse-scale system, all the way up to commercial-scale urban farms that occupy under-utilised land and warehouses.

Aquaponics is energy efficient. In an intelligently built and ideal system the only energy input is one water pump, or air pump, that ultimately provides lots of fresh food and protein.

In a day and age where it takes ten calories of fossil fuel to get one 1 calorie of food aquaponics saves water. It generally uses 90% less water than soil-based agriculture, because the water recirculates within the system rather than seeps away.

The only water loss is through evaporation and transpiration from plant leaves. In a world of declining water resources, this is intelligent farming.

Aquaponics saves time. Although it may seem intimidating and technical at first, truly aquaponics is simple once you understand the basics. It also has the advantage of being a self-regulating system, where changes in certain elements like an increase in fish waste (as the fish grow larger) are buffered by others (like the plants ability to uptake more nutrient as the plants grow or more plants are added).

Finally, because it is a recirculating system and a soilless method, that means you don’t have to worry about digging, weeding, and time spent watering.

Aquaponics method is purely organic. As the plants consume the nutrients, they help to purify the water that the fish live in. A natural microbial process in the grow media (which works as a bio-filter) will keep both fish and plants healthy. This creates a sustainable ecosystem where both plants and fish can thrive.

Aquaponics lends itself as the ideal technology to be implemented in Namibia, as it requires very little water and space, no specific location, no fertilisers and no high level of skill to learn its method, yet it can produce a significantly higher yield than conventional crop production.

Thus the concept is very versatile and can be applied in community projects or on domestic scale for personal consumption and can be maintained by the very young, the elderly and even physically impaired individuals.

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