Beyond political and economic issues, the list of major problems faced by mankind is food scarcity, soil erosion, water scarcity, and others. Aquaponics is a promising technique to solve all these fundamental problems.
The governments, researchers, and non-profit organizations across the globe are working to resolve the potential issues associated with food safety and agricultural production and have come up with advanced technologies and innovative farming methods. Rainwater harvesting, wastewater recycling, and other water conservation techniques have been rapidly penetrating into modern-day agriculture practices to reduce the effect of water scarcity. The evolution of farming methods has significantly improved the agricultural yield at lower inputs. Indoor farming market a turnaround in the field of urban agriculture and aquaponics emerged as a sustainable method for growing vegetables and fish.
Need for advanced farming technologies
The current food system is highly unsustainable, both socially and environmentally, and is unable to meet the growing food demand coupled with a rapid rise in population. The annual agricultural yield is continuously reducing in most parts of the world owing to factors such as soil erosion, scarcity in irrigation water, aquifer depletion, and others, thus further increasing the pressure on the countries. This has necessitated the farmers to adopt novel farming practices.
The term Aquaponics is the portmanteau of aquaculture and hydroponics, meaning a closed-loop farming of plants and fish in a common ecosystem. Plants utilize the dissolved nitrogen and phosphorous compounds liberated from fish waste for its nourishment, and this removal of nutrients from the water improves the water quality, thus improving the health of the fish. There are multiple factors motivating farmers and urban growers towards the adoption of aquaponics with its pollution-free, ability to solar power, and organic claim of production features being the major. Aquaponics is suitable for the production of a wide array of herbs, fruits, and vegetables, and also enables simultaneous production of multiple crops. A recent survey on aquaponics in the U.S. showed that basil, lettuce, salad greens, pepper, cucumbers, and kale are the commonly grown crops, while Tilapia is the most raised fish species. Furthermore, it also provides economic benefits both in terms of return on investment (ROI) and low intake of agricultural input compared to ground farming, thus shifting the focus of ecopreneurs towards the following aquaponics. It is coined as a year-round indoor farming and has proven to provide food that is free from chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.
The limited quantitative research and lack of technological awareness among farmers are hindering the development and implementation of aquaponics. Commercial implementation of aquaponics on large scale is highly limited even in highly developed countries.
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Many farm management companies across the globe have started working with aquaculture experts to grab the economic potential of aquaponics. This has turned popular among entrepreneurs and has witnessed a large number of funding activities in recent times. Organic Nutrition (ONI), a U.S.-based aquaponics farm company has raised a total investment of $1.48m in 2017 and is planning to grow its 117-acre aquaponics system in Florida. In June 2018, the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority (RWA) has invested $500,000 in Trifecta Ecosystems, another U.S.-based aquaponics technology-based firm to build a custom-controlled aquaponics system. “The initial investment from RWA will allow our firm to grow a new aquaponics system in New Haven region that will combine food production, processing, aggregation, and workforce training at integrated locations, thus helping pave the way for adoption across the state” opined Spencer Curry, the CEO and co-founder of Trifecta in a press release.
Despite the challenges, aquaponics is likely to be the method of choice for farmers particularly in arid and semi-arid regions facing severe water scarcity. The potential benefits offered by aquaponics is estimated to significantly boost the development of this integrated food development systems in near future. In late 2017, National Organic Standards Board, the advisory committee of USDA has voted to permit aquaponics farms for being eligible for USDA organic certification, thus enabling aquaponic farms to target the rapidly growing market for organic produce across the world. According to the Organic Trade Association's 2018 Organic Industry Survey, the sales of organic food reached $45.2 billion in the U.S. by marking an annual growth of 6.4%. The Indian organic food market is estimated to grow at a lucrative CAGR of over 25% till 2020, stated The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) in its recent publication. The development of micro aquaponics systems and Do-It-Yourself aquaponics packages is likely to favor the growth of this farming technology.
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