Aquaponics, the integration of aquaculture and hydroponics, utilizes fish effluent to provide plants with biologically-available nutrients. Plants grown in the same system then serve as a natural bio-filter for the fish in a cyclical symbiotic relationship. The hybrid nature of the system reduces maintenance while increasing yield; it also provides a protein crop (fish) as well as vegetable matter. Because fish are far more efficient converters of feed into body mass than any other livestock (such as mammals and birds), aquaponics is a more sustainable option than most types of animal agriculture.
Aquaponic systems already exist in urban areas for educational and commercial production purposes, but they have not been implemented successfully in rural settings as a means of subsistence. This is because current systems require large inputs of electrical energy, capital investment, processed fish feed, fish fingerlings, and technology. In urban environments, where space is at a premium, these high-intensity systems are capable of success, but they would not flourish in areas with inconsistent electrical service or scarce capital for investment., Therefore, a low-energy input system with the same benefits as an intensive system would ameliorate the inadequate food distributions in rural areas and developing nations.
Once the aquaponic system is in place, the primary cost of continuing production is purchasing fingerlings and feed. Tilapia reproduce quickly in an aquaponic system, and therefore the cost of fingerlings can be largely avoided. Feed poses more of a challenge as it is expensive to purchase, and many rural areas do not have market access to purchase processed feed. Therefore, alternative sources of nutrients that are widely available and more cost-effective would make a system more flexible and feasible.
We seek to create a subsistence-level aquaponic system that can potentially be implemented in rural settings, despite the scarcity of resources. The creation of a low energy, low input system that can provide food for direct consumption by the individuals maintaining it would help ameliorate the inadequate food distributions in these rural, developing areas. Results of our project may lead to advances in efficiency (cost, energy vs. yield), stability, and marketability of current aquaponic systems.