Aquaponics. (Photo: Ryan Somma/CC BY-SA 2.0)
Aquaponics, an aid for food security in the Arab countries
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Tuesday, February 02, 2016, 00:40 (GMT + 9)
An interesting article published in Arab World Agribusiness Magazine stresses the important role aquaponics can play in Arab countries by providing an accessible and sustainable system for food production.
In the report, entitled Aquaponics: An Integrated Fish and Crops Production: A Food Security Booster for Arab Countries, Fisheries Development consultant Izzat Feidi says that almost all Arab countries need to import food to supplement local production of fish and crops to meet domestic demand. He states that although the extent of this trade in food varies by country, the overall balance is negative at the moment.
This negative balance of trade indicates a large gap between exports and imports that need to be narrowed to help overcome weaknesses in the overall standing of national economies.
In the view of the current global drop in oil prices and the need for the diversification of the national economies, Arab countries face new challenges.
Overall, the region of the Arab countries have agricultural and fishery resources that could be more productive with better utilization.
However, the first and foremost limitation is water. More and more Arab countries are sinking below the water poverty level.
In addition, over-exploitation of subterranean water resources has led to numerous problems in some countries as a result of the consequent higher salinity levels in aquifers.
The bottom line here is that, if water resources cannot keep up with the food production needs of the people, the countries will necessarily continue to rely on food imports.
And here, aquaponics appears a revolutionary process which combines aquaculture and hydroponics to provide a sustainable, synergistic and affordable food production system, Izzat Feidi highlights.
His article, published in Volume 32, No. 1 Arab World Agribusiness Magazine explains that this process combines conventional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as various species of fish, oysters, snails, crayfish or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating various crops in water).
Unlike aquaculture, excretions from animals are broken down by nitrification bacteria into nitrates and nitrites, which are utilized by the crops as nutrients, and the water is then recirculated back to the aquaculture system.
The system implementation may help to narrow the gap for food commodities imports, boosting food security, increasing employments, raising the levels of income to improve living standards especially in poorer communities.
However, according to Izzat, most importantly of all, aquaponics can contribute to feed the growing demand for high quality, local produce from both traders and consumers.
The only notable inputs into these operations are the fish food and the energy required for the pumps and water heaters. There is no soil and there are no waste by-products – the fish waste fertilizes crops while the crops purify the water for the fish.
The technology has so far been proven popular in Australia and other parts of the world.
The benefits of aquaponics include producing two marketable products for the price of one. In addition, products show a 50 per cent better growth than those grown directly in soil, and water reuse rates are close to 100 per cent (only water replacement required is for evaporation, among other factors) as well as it is viewed as a highly sustainable method of production.
The project has already been implemented in Egypt since 2011, which grows tilapia with reasonable success.
In the United Arab Emirates, an aquaponics project described as the world’s largest aquaponics centre has started to sell salad crops to supermarkets across the UAE and will market its fish.
The commercial development of large-scale aquaponics is being pioneered in Oman by Water Farmers Canada in collaboration with the Al-Raid Business Corporation.
There are several on-going projects in Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Kuwait, and in other countries.
Tilapia is most popular species to grow in aquaponic systems due to its high tolerances to water quality and fast marketable growth.
Barramundi is a fast growing fish that can be grown in high stocking densities, making it ideal for recirculation technology.