What is Aquaponics

How does aquaponics work and how can it benefit Ethiopia

Dr. Abebe Tadesse explains the working of Aquaponics

Aquaponics is a food production method in which fish and vegetable farming are integrated into one system. Vegetables are grown hydroponically, which means that the plants absorb nutrients from water instead of soil in order to grow. A fish tank is connected with a vegetable grow bed, so the water can flow from the fish tank to the grow bed. Bacteria convert harmful ammonia in the fish excrements into nitrates, which are a great fertilizer for the vegetables. The vegetables use the nutrients to grow, and purify the water during the process, making it suitable to flow back to the fish.

There has been a renewed interest in aquaponics in recent decades, but the aquaponics principle has been around for centuries. In ancient China, for instance, farmers used a similar principle to fertilize their rice paddies, by keeping carp in the water.

Potential of aquaponics in Africa
Countries worldwide face challenges in producing adequate amounts of healthy food for their people in a sustainable way. Aquaponics can play a major role in improving the access to sufficient healthy food for marginalized groups. People can grow their own food to supplement their diet with vitamins and proteins. In addition aquaponics businesses can contribute to employment and generate income. Aquaponics is especially suitable for developing countries with limited access to food, water, arable land and/or chemical fertilizer as it:

  • Is up to 8.5 times more water efficient than conventional agriculture
  • Reaches a higher crop production per m2 in less time than conventional agriculture
  • Is an organic  production method (depending on the countries legislation) and does not depend on pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers, leaving the environment unharmed
  • Provides both vegetables and fish which are essential components of a varied diet
  • Can vary in size and complexity from small indoor systems to outdoor units to large advanced commercial systems
  • Does not depend on fertile soil, and can be set up where conventional agriculture is impossible

Aquaponics in Ethiopia
Currently a number of aquaponics systems have been established in Ethiopia to asses the opportunities for others to start their own aquaponics farms. Aquaponics has currently been established in three regions:

Showarobit: 8 entrepreneurs with a system of 12m2
Metahara: A system of 300m2 managed by a youth cooperative
Hawassa: 8 entrepreneurs with a system of 12m2

All selected entrepreneurs have received technical and entrepreneurial support from Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia), SREDP (Ethiopia), Wageningen University (The Netherlands) and TGS business and development initiatives (The Netherlands).

The findings of this project serve as a resource base for others to start aquaponics as a business to grow health fish and vegetables. The opportunity is there to start farming Aquaponically from 10 to 2000m2. With a production of 400 to 8000kg of vegetables per year and 100 to 20000kg of Tilapia respectively.

This post is also available in: ah