Long before anyone was concerned about a global food shortage, once-nomadic Aztec natives living in what is present-day central Mexico were trying to figure out how to grow crops on the marshy shores of Lake Tenochtitlan. The surrounding hills made traditional crops out of the question.
Quite ingeniously, they decided to construct huge rafts out of the reeds and rushes that surrounded the lake. Covering the rafts in soil that they obtained from the shallow bottom of the lake, they planted vegetable crops and sent the rafts floating on the water. The result was the first man-made aquaponics system.
The practice was also recorded in areas of China and Thailand, where fish or eels were farmed in conjunction with rice in paddy fields.
Today, aquaponics is creating a stir around the world – from North America to Oceania – so why not India? Spreading the word about aquaponics in India might be a viable solution to many of the problems faced by Indian farmers today. But first, we need to understand how aquaponics could address some of India’s agriculatural problems.
Obstacles to Agriculture in India
Poor rural roads prevent farmers from accessing the timely supply of necessary inputs and transfer of produce to markets.
Aquaponics systems do not require vast amounts of cropland. In fact, they can produce the same yield using 1/8th of the land used by traditional farming. Therefore, it is entirely feasible to have aquaponics systems closer to produce markets in order to reduce the distance that food and supplies have to travel.
Inadequate irrigation systems.
Aquaponic systems use 1/10th of the water used by traditional farming methods. How? Two large tanks, used to raise fish or other aquatic animals, are filled with water. That water becomes filled with waste, or effluents, from the fish. It is then pumped into hydroponic plant beds, where the plants drink the water. The fish waste serves as nutrients for the plants, and as they soak up the water it gets filtered so that it can once again be used in the fish tanks. The result is that water is recycled within the system and there is less of a need for irrigation. Compared to traditional farming, in which 90% of irrigation water is lost to runoff, only 1-3% of the water used is lost due to evaporation and plant consumption.
Adverse weather conditions in many areas of the country, including both flooding and water shortages.
As mentioned above, aquaponics conserves water through constant water use and recycling, therefore it is a good option for areas susceptible to water shortages, drought, and low groundwater levels. On the other hand, aquaponics systems would have to be protected from heavy rains and flooding, but compared to traditional agriculture this would be feasible because these systems do not take up as much space.
Inefficient farming practices in certain areas of the country.
Aquaponics is one of the most efficient methods of farming out there. Not only does is use drastically less space, less water, and fewer fertilizers, it can also produce crops year round.
Farmers are being forced to leave traditional, healthy farming practices behind for pesticide use and genetically modified plants in order to increase crop yield and heartiness.
Aquaponics systems eliminate the use of pesticides because plants are not grown in a traditional environment. As soil is taken out of the equation, insects are less likely to damage crops. Moreover, even the need for fertilizers is greatly reduced, as fish waste serves as a nutritious meal for plants. All of this equals less damage to the environment and to the consumer who eats the produce.
While there is clearly no blanket solution for all agricultural issues, using aquaponics in India is definitely a step in the right direction.
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