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Aquaponics in developing countriesEarth is now home to 7.7 billion people. Of those 7.7 billion people, about 10 percent are currently suffering from chronic undernourishment. With the global population projected to reach 10 billion by 2050, the need for more efficient and effective agriculture practices and systems is critical. Aquaponics, any system that creates a symbiotic relationship between aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (growing plants in water), has the potential to solve this problem.

What is Aquaponics?

Aquaponics is any symbiotic relationship between fish that produce excretions of ammonia, bacteria that convert this ammonia into nitrate, and plants that use this nitrate as fertilizer. Overall, it creates a win-win-win situation for these three organisms, which leads to the maximization of available resources.

History of Aquaponics

Many historians believe that the first aquaponics systems were devised in South China in 5 AD. Farmers would raise ducks, catfish and finfish together in rice paddies. During the Tang Dynasty, records of floating rice rafts on top of fish ponds also began appearing.

Modern aquaponics, on the other hand, emerged in the U.S. Interest in the concept is relatively new, as the majority of the progress made in this field has been achieved within the past 35 years. The first closed-loop system, as well as the first large-scale commercial facility, were both created in the mid-1980s.

Benefits

Aquaponics provides many benefits to its users. In comparison to traditional conventional agriculture methods, aquaponics uses only one-sixth of the water to grow up to eight times more food per acre. Due to it being a closed system and the use of the fish waste as fertilizer, it also avoids the issue of chemical runoff. Because aquaponics produces both a vegetable and fish crop, communities that implement the system would also have access to better nutrition. Protein-calorie malnutrition is often the most common form of nutrient deficiency in developing countries, so providing stable sources of fish protein to such at-risk communities could potentially be revolutionary.

Challenges

Although it is undisputed that aquaponics would be a game-changer for food production in developing countries, the high initial start-up cost of modern aquaponics — about $20,000 for a small commercial system — remains a significant barrier. Furthermore, technical training on the subject would need to be provided to locals prior to the implementation of such systems. These aquaponics systems also require a consistent source of electricity in order to maintain constant water circulation. This issue, however, can likely be solved through alternative sources such as solar or hydropower. Therefore, a more simplified design is required for implementation in developing countries — one that could withstand shortages of raw materials and professionals as well as a strong technical support system.

Implementation in Developing Countries

Currently, aquaponics in developing countries has mostly been brought about through nonprofits. For instance, the Amsha Africa Foundation started an aquaponics campaign in sub-Saharan African countries. After launching its first project in rural Kenya in 2007, the organization has since expanded into five more countries and positively impacted thousands. The project targets sustenance farmers who do not have an adequate supply of food and water and are living on eroded or depleted soils.

Another similar organization is Aquaponics Africa, a project created by engineer Ken Konschel. The organization works with farmers to build and design their own backyard or commercial aquaponics system. It also sells informational handbooks detailing the process of maintaining an aquaponics system in Africa for just R300, or about $20.

Aquaponics in recent decades has proven itself to be quite revolutionary to the agriculture industry. It provides many benefits over conventional farming, as it is both more efficient and effective. But, for it to be easier accessible by communities and individuals in developing countries, greater headway will need to be made in terms of simplifying its design in order to adapt it to different environments.

– Linda Yan
Photo: Wikimedia

malnutrition in pakistan
Children are more prone to malnutrition than adults. Half of the children in Pakistan are malnourished, leading to mental and physical health problems. These children are often living in poverty.

Malnutrition caused 54 percent of children’s deaths in 2001. Babies are often underweight from birth due to their mothers’ malnourishment while bearing them. It was reported in 2001 that 14 percent of pregnant women were underweight and 2.5 percent of them were extremely thin. Malnourished children often get infectious diseases and since they do not have the right nutrients to fight off these diseases, it often leads to a never-ending cycle.

Many surveys have indicated that sub-clinical deficiencies in iron, zinc and Vitamin A are widespread among schoolchildren and pregnant women. In the national nutrition survey in 2001 to 2002, it was implied that 66.5 percent of 0-5 year olds were found to be iron deficient, 37 percent with zinc deficiency and 12.5 percent had VAD. It has been found that 5.9 percent, 36.5 percent, 41 percent and 45 percent of pregnant women had sub-clinical deficiencies in VA, iodine, zinc and iron respectively.

One of the more significant, potential causes for malnutrition in Pakistan is the low production of food. Cereal is a big part of Pakistan’s diet, making 62 percent of a person’s energy. Pakistan is one of the few countries to primarily consume milk, but the consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and fish is very low. The reason fruits and vegetables are hardly consumed in Pakistan is due to the weather conditions being inadequate for growing crops, and there being hardly any market facilities for the products.

Other causes for malnutrition include poverty, unawareness, population growth, political instability, loss of food stock due to poor harvest and natural calamities. Undernourishment in children has been directly linked with illiterate mothers, low incomes and bigger families.

Here are a few ways malnourishment in Pakistan can be fixed — better farming techniques like using fertilizer that can produce better crops, government policies that ensure food security, programs educating people on how to eat cheaply properly, family planning and a controlled population.

— Priscilla Rodarte

Sources: World Bank, JPMA, The News, FAO
Photo: Save the Children

Soybeans and Global Food Security
A recent study by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California has shown that soybeans can be re-engineered to grow in more arid environments without losing standard crop yield. If the new varieties prove durable, the cultivation of soybeans in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia will help address food insecurity issues in the region. Here are five reasons why soybeans are important in addressing global food security:

1. Food production must increase by 70 percent to meet the world’s food needs by 2050.

There are a number of factors that will affect global food security in the coming decades including: population increase, movement away from rural areas and toward urban centers, food production and climate change.

Today, undernourishment affects 870 million people worldwide. Between now and 2050, there will be an additional two billion people on our planet, with around 24 million children pushed into hunger due to food security issues.

2. Soybeans are one of the world’s most important protein crops.

Soybeans have a protein content of over 35 percent, as well as healthy unsaturated fats and carbohydrate fibers, making them some of the healthiest food sources around. They are also one of the least expensive sources of protein when compared to eggs, milk, beef and cow peas.

Due to the use of soybeans in both the food and animal feed industries, soybean farmers can earn a substantial amount of cash because the crop can be successfully grown at a low cost of production.

3. Modifying soybeans can address both climate challenges and food insecurity.

In a recent study led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL,) computer models have been applied to look for a super soybean. The research study determined that soybean plants can be redesigned to increase crop yield by 7 percent without using more water. The study also demonstrated that soybeans can be redesigned to use either 13 percent less water, or reflect 34 percent more light back into space without reducing crop yields–good for both food security and climate change.

While other geo-engineering solutions for climate change tend to be expensive, such as spraying sulfates into the upper atmosphere in order to reduce incoming sunlight or loading the ocean with iron in order to increase plankton photosynthesis, modifying annual crops is inexpensive and can be implemented quickly.

4. Soybean cultivation is growing in Africa.

Research by the University of Agriculture Makurdi in Nigeria in collaboration with the International Institute of Agriculture (IITA), aims to help improve the lives and livelihoods of small-hold farmers in the drought-prone areas of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia by providing more durable soybean varieties that can stand up against more arid conditions. Like the redesigned varieties in the JPL study, new varieties being promoted in Africa can help increase crop yields without using more water.

Soybean production remains relatively isolated in Africa, with Nigeria as the largest soybean producer, followed by South Africa and Uganda. However, the new, more durable varieties may allow for more countries to begin cultivating soybeans, helping improve the health of their populations as well as reducing local poverty.

5. Soybeans could have a long-term impact on poverty.

Food and water security will be a major national security focus in the coming decades as both climate change and population increases affect food production worldwide. Countries lacking basic food resources to feed their growing urban populations may become hotbeds for conflict, unrest and terrorist activities.

While many solutions for food insecurity should be addressed and considered by lawmakers, scientists and farmers alike, soybean technology is a first step in addressing the needs of poverty stricken regions by providing a modified crop that can meet multiple goals.

Re-engineered soybeans are an innovative (and healthy) way to help address local food security issues worldwide. Not only do they provide a good food source, but their wide use in products from oils to food to animal feed guarantee a lucrative market for local farmers. Reducing poverty through innovative changes in the way staple crops are traditionally grown is an economical and feasible way to bring food security, in light of climate and population challenges, to developing regions of the world.

– Andrea Blinkhorn

Sources: Daily Trust, United Nations Conference on Trade And Development, Intech, NASA, VOA News, World Food Programme, Stop Hunger Now
Photo: HD WAll IMG

Plumpynut
The world produces more than enough food to feed all 7 billion of us, yet 1 billion people in the world do not have enough to eat. Where is all of that food going?

While more than 3.5 million children die each year because of malnutrition, up to 50 percent of all of the food produced in the world goes straight from the farm to the trash can. Plus, 2.2 billion tons of potentially life-saving food is being thrown away every year. According to a study by the UN, the world will need to produce up to 70 percent more food to feed the growing population in 2050, but does that account for the enormous amount of food that is wasted? Imagine the amount of human lives, water, and arable soil that could be saved if all the food grown in the world was actually used to feed people.

According to a new study, of the remaining 50 percent of food that is grown in the world, most of it is fed to livestock. That’s right, those bovines that were ground-up, fried, and slapped on a bun first needed to eat lots and lots of corn. For many food-secure individuals living it up in the developed world, meat usually takes up most of the plate, with a small salad or some fries on the side, perhaps.

Yet, the production of meat is an incredibly inefficient use of the world’s dwindling resources. Consider that a human being will eat one small serving of meat and feel full for a few hours, but that animal needed to be fed every day from birth to slaughter. In the end, the ratio of calories consumed by an animal raised for livestock compared to the energy that humans will gain from that animal is 30 to 1. It’s a long shot, but if every human on the planet decided to go vegetarian, 815 million people would have food on their plates. But that’s not the point.

These astounding numbers make it clear that the world is not running out of food, and that changing the way food is used could be just as beneficial to food-insecure people as growing more of it. “We essentially have uncovered an astoundingly abundant supply of food for a hungry world, hidden in plain sight in the farmlands we already cultivate,” says Emily Cassidy, primary author of the study from Environmental Research Letters.

– Jennifer Bills

Sources: FastCoExist, Redefining agricultural yields, Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Action Against Hunger