How to Start Growing Food Security for the Future

Aquaponics – the co-raising of fish and plants in water in a symbiotic, eco-friendly system – is over 1000 years old, and dates back to both the Aztecs and ancient China. In both ancient and modern times, this ecologically friendly system has been providing protein and vegetables – along with affordable food security – for diverse populations worldwide. But what is the future of aquaponics? Overall, the global aquaponics outlook is for continued growth. The popular recirculating farming system has been providing new opportunities for economical, healthy food sources to both those in need, and those seeking to provide higher quality food options. Where aquaponics will really make its mark in the future is in large-scale, sustainable urban agriculture providing food security to burgeoning city populations worldwide. However, until aquaponics’ necessary supporting infrastructure, education, and social acceptance catches up to the economics of scale, it’s short-term future is in compact systems for individuals, families, businesses, and small communities.

The Global Aquaponics Outlook

The Confluence - Indoor Office Aquaponics System

The Confluence – Indoor Office Aquaponics System

Worldwide, growth in aquaponics is taking off. According to a study by India’s Market Research Future, the global aquaponics market is expected to grow at the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.5%. The report states that the increasing population leading to increasing food demand, demand for sustainable & natural system of crop cultivation without chemical or pesticide use and strong growth in aquaculture industry is driving the growth in aquaponics market. Many farmers are adopting aquaponics farming technique over organic farming as it provides high return on investment which is supporting the growth of aquaponics market. Indeed, in countries like India, China, and the USA, the demand for healthy food raised in a sustainable, environmentally-friendly way has given this new version of an ancient farming technique a boost. Innovations in technology are helping spread aquaponics in Europe and the USA. Charitable organizations such as Koya Project are bringing aquaponics education and systems to the underserved, providing needed food security in developing countries like Cambodia. But the real future of aquaponics lies not as a replacement for the agrarian heartlands of old. It is in a most unusual place for a
farm – the city.

Why Cities?

Bali Aquaponics Island

Bali Aquaponics Island

The world’s population is growing rapidly, and is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. According to the United Nations “World Urbanization Prospects – The 2014 Revision” report, 6.5 billion of those people will be living in cities. That’s nearly double what the population is today. This is going to put an immense stress on current food systems. When compounded with the progressive effects of climate change, and the long-term economic uncertainty of changing industries with increased automation, what we’re looking at is a lot of people who will potentially be lacking food security in dense urban environments. On top of that is an ongoing depletion of natural resources such as clean air, soil, and water; and an increased demand for healthy foods free of corporate farming’s aggressive use of G.M.O.’s. The world will be feeling an acute shortage of space to grow food and the resources to grow it in traditional ways. It’s a perfect storm of needy consumers – us – looking for a ship to sail away on. In this case, that ship is urban farming done with aquaponics systems.

Why Aquaponics is Great for Urban Farming

Indoor Aquaponics Herbal System

Indoor Aquaponics Herbal System

Some cities with a lack of arable land and large populations are already making inroads on this problem. Although it seems odd to consider, the fact is that many cities already produce a large quantity of food within their limits. Singapore and Hong Kong, for example, produce more than 20% of their proteins (meat) and produce (vegetables) within their borders. With the coming population boom, different systems will be required to meet the continuous demand. This is where aquaponics comes in – one of the most efficient systems of food production available to man. Just one backyard system can grow hundreds of pounds of fish, and more than enough vegetables to feed a family in a very small space. Clearly, in urban environments, aquaponics is the future of food.

Here are the main benefits of aquaponics vs. traditional farming in an urban setting. On a larger scale, aquaponics systems can repurpose unused buildings through placement in old warehouses and abandoned factories on the outskirts of cities. New “tower farm” buildings holding massive vertical aquaponics systems can be built in the center of cities. Using the already available space, an aquaponics system could produce up to 50,000 pounds (22680 kg) of fish and 100,000 pounds (45360 kg) of produce annually in one acre. Rooftops provide a nearly unlimited number of smaller farming locations, which have the added advantage of providing climate change reducing greenery throughout the city.

This hyper-local food production also reduces transportation needs, lowering greenhouse gases and the carbon footprint of food production. Entire communities could be designed around aquaponics farm systems, similar to proposed new development in Detroit, Michigan. Energy and drinking water would be saved, less CO2 would be produced, and more people would have access to healthy, organic food. Not only that, but more people would have new jobs, as aquaponics farming would create all new categories of urban employment. In cities, aquaponics is the future of sustainable farming. It’s an idea whose time has come, and will be needed in the future. So why isn’t all of this happening right now?

Why Large-Scale Urban Farming Isn’t Happening – Yet

Indoor Hotel Aquaponics System

Indoor Hotel Aquaponics System

While there are definitely successful aquaponics farms at work in many cities around the globe, massive scale adoption has yet to take hold. In fact, there is anecdotal evidence suggesting that as many new, large-scale aquaponics farms fail as those that succeed. So what is going on, and what has to happen to make this dream a reality?

A significant issue in the future of aquaponics is the cost. While on a small scale, one can quickly recoup the cost of an aquaponics system over time, there are some current impediments to creating sustainable business models with large-scale systems. Real estate is a big one. The skyrocketing cost of urban real estate, both in the buying and rental markets, makes it difficult to set up football-field sized aquaponics systems in the short term without a significant early monetary outlay. A needed salve to this burn would come in the form of grants, credits, or incentives from government to make this socially-conscious business model easier and more affordable. Along those lines, aquaponics seems to be one of those outlier businesses that exists ahead of the regulations to keep up with it (much like the internet or location-independent businesses). An large-scale urban farm and it’s necessary storefront (or distribution arm) would be subject to any number of permits, licenses, and taxes from any number of local, state, and federal agencies – none of which are currently set up to take into account the revolutionary nature of the system and its technology.

Another issue in the success of large-scale aquaponics is the lack of widespread infrastructure and education. Again, anecdotally, it seems that a lack of business or aquaponics education is a leading cause of aquaponics farm failure. The infrastructure that needs to exist to support multiple successful large urban farms includes:

● Legal (permitting) infrastructure
● Better public education and job training
● A trained workforce
● Urban fish hatcheries
● More fish and produce processing and sales centers
● More fish veterinarians
● Commercial kitchens
● Equipment vendors and resources

While many, if not all, of these items currently can be found, they need to grow on a proportional scale with large-scale aquaponics farms to allow for successful, productive farming. There are also issues of marketplace competition with farmer’s markets, wholesalers, and super stores that would need to be resolved. Social acceptance and promotion of aquaponics is definitely underway, but requires long-term concerted efforts by the public and government to get to where it needs to be. So, as a interested party who wants to help grow urban aquaponics and create food security for the future, what can you do?

The Small-Scale Solution

The immediate future of aquaponics is in smaller scale, compact systems for individuals, families, businesses, and small communities. How does this work and promote eventual large-scale adoption?

A working aquaponics system producing food in your home or business provides you and your family or customers with delicious, healthy, organic food at a fraction of the cost and with significantly less environmental impact than the store bought equivalent. Home and business systems come in easy to use, beautiful aquaponics designs that can be indoor or outdoor, depending on your needs. Whether you want a centerpiece for the lobby of your business, or a replacement for your koi pond or unsustainable lawn, you’ll find that a small aquaponics system is a gift that keeps giving. They provide an easy source of community education, because plenty of people will be asking you questions about it. In this way, you organically spread awareness and information – about the source of your delicious, eco-friendly, organic food!

By working with an aquaponics system at a smaller scale in your home or business, you’ll also avoid the pitfalls of overly high costs along with excessive and unnecessary regulation. A smaller system will supply food security for your family in case of emergency or hard times, and provide savings on costs in your business.

Other ways you can help are:
● Get involved with local government and environmental organizations to promote changes that build the needed infrastructure and educational systems needed for large-scale urban aquaponics farming
● Support an aquaponics system in your children’s school or local university
● Support charitable organizations like Koya Project who are bringing aquaponics to the underserved around the world

The future of aquaponics is in urban farming, but we have to start smaller and build up to the levels that will provide food security for our future. A beautiful, small-scale system in your home or business will help spread the awareness of aquaponics as the solution we need. Early adopters will become evangelists for aquaponics, and be the ones at the forefront of spreading the technology that will someday provide the majority of food for urban dwellers throughout the world.

By starting small and sharing your knowledge, you are planting the seeds that will help bear fruit for all later. The future is coming, and, with our help, the food of the future will be grown by aquaponics