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The concept of using faecal waste and overall excrements from fish to fertilize plants has existed for millennia, with early civilizations in both Asia and South America applying this method. Through the pioneering work of the New Alchemy Institute and other North American and European academic institutions in the late 1970s, and further research in the following decades, this basic form of aquaponics evolved into the modern food production systems of today. Prior to the technological advances of the 1980s, most attempts to integrate hydroponics and aquaculture had limited success. The 1980s and 1990s saw advances in system design, biofiltration and the identification of the optimal fish-to-plant ratios that led to the creation of closed systems that allow for the recycling of water and nutrient buildup for plant growth. In its early aquaponic systems, North Carolina State University (United States of America) demonstrated that water consumption in integrated systems was just 5 percent of that used in pond culture for growing tilapia. This development, among other key initiatives, pointed to the suitability of integrated aquaculture and hydroponic systems for raising fish and growing vegetables, particularly in arid and water poor regions.

Although in use since the 1980s, aquaponics is still a relatively new method of food production with only a small number of research and practitioner hubs worldwide with comprehensive aquaponic experience. James Rakocy has been an industry leader regarding research and development through his work at the University of the Virgin Islands (United States of America). He has developed vital ratios and calculations in order to maximize production of both fish and vegetables while maintaining a balanced ecosystem. In Australia, Wilson Lennard has also produced key calculations and production plans for other types of systems. In Alberta, Canada, research by Nick Savidov over a two-year period produced results showing that aquaponics units had significantly superior production of tomatoes and cucumbers when some key nutrients levels were met. Mohammad Abdus Salam of the Bangladesh Agricultural University furthered the field in home-scale subsistence farming with aquaponics. These research breakthroughs, as well as many others, have paved the way for various practitioner groups and support/training companies that are beginning to sprout worldwide. Suggested readings of the keystone works in aquaponics are provided at the end of this publication.

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2014, Christopher Somerville, Moti Cohen, Edoardo Pantanella, Austin Stankus and Alessandro Lovatelli, Small-scale aquaponic food production, Reproduced with permission.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

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