Long before aquaponics actually became aquaponics, people had been using similar methods for years… Here it is, the History of Aquaponics!


In 1000 AD the Aztec Indians settled in central Mexico near Lake Tenochtitlan. The fresh water lake was surrounded by marshes and rising hills which threw up a problem of where to grow food.

With the great ingenuity that led them to become a great civilization, they had the bright idea of constructing a number of rafts made from reeds and rushes, which they padded out with soil dredged up from the lake floor. They then planted their crops on these floating islands (called chinampas), but before long, the roots of the plants had passed through the soil to dangle in the water.

Mark Fischer (Flickr)

Mark Fischer (Flickr)

Visitors to the area can still see the remnants of the chinampas.

Ancient China

It is thought that the first aquaponics-style growing systems were in China. The clever Chinese noticed that the waste from animals could be added to their plants to feed them.

They eventually refined their systems so that a chicken pen sat on top of a pig pen, with holes in the floor so that the waste and excess feed could drop down to feed the pigs, which in turn sat on top of a carp pond, with the waste dropping down to feed the carp. This water then flowed to ponds with less tolerant fish such as catfish, which then flowed to plant crops, and then to the rice paddies. These were called flow-through systems.

Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Ok, so no one knows for sure if these ever actually existed as the location is unknown. However many historians insist that they did and that they would have used a form of aquaponics, where the hanging plants would have been nourished from water streams below.

And today…

The greatest leap in the history of aquaponics has probably been in the past 35 years. Much progress has been made in developing recirculating aquaculture systems in which a farmer is able to grow up to ¾ pound of fish per gallon of water. Despite the history of fish farming and soilless plant culture, the combination of raising both plants and fish together in this manner is new and different.

Dr James Rakocy has played a huge part in refining these systems at the University of the Virgin Islands. Huge credit belongs to him for developing raft systems, understanding the correct plant/fish ratios and the best overall methods for carrying out the process successfully.

Recently it has been realized what a boon aquaponics farming could be to developing countries – ones with limited water supply and with lots of hungry people. The initial set-up costs aside, the aquaponics method brings farming into the present, and the future of world hunger looks a lot brighter.

Written by Pippa Woodhead
Being a health-nut, London born Pippa has struggled to adjust to the lack of availability of lettuce and kale since re-locating to India. Previously naive to the extent of the worlds food struggles, she has now become obsessed with sustainability in food production and especially in India where it needs it the most (plus she’s also hoping to get her hands on some kale any day now). When she’s not writing for Aquaponics in India, she is usually found with her head in a book or in the kitchen experimenting with new vegetarian recipes.