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The world population is an estimated 7.7 billion and is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050. To feed this expanding global populace, food production must increase by 30-50%. This increase would require that land used to raise crops expand by almost 1.5 billion acres; that is about ¾ the size of the continental United States.
In 2020, agriculture utilized almost 50% of the world's vegetated land. The ongoing increase in atmospheric CO~2~ levels, leading to increased global warming, would be exacerbated by the large-scale conversion of forested lands to crop land necessary for food production. In addition, current agriculture production accounts for 90% of all water used by humankind. This growth and consumption of resources is not sustainable. Alternative ways to increase food production are required; we simply cannot just do more of what we are doing now.
The World Resources Institute (WRI) recently published a report titled "Creating a Sustainable Food Future" (Searchinger et al. 2014). The authors propose five "courses" or ways to produce more food without increasing environmental impacts. Aquaponics is a concept that addresses several of these initiatives.
One of the WRI courses is to increase food production without expanding agricultural land. To accomplish this, they state that "increased efficiency of natural resource use is the single most important step toward meeting both food production and environmental goals." As opposed to most recommendations, they propose increasing production intensity as a pathway to sustainability. Aquaponics is one of the more efficient and intensive food producing systems available. It is efficient in terms of the amount of food produced per unit area, unit of water, and unit of nutrients added to the system, especially in tropical or sub-tropical climates where heating costs are minimized.
Another solution proposed in the report is to increase fish supply. There is an indication that fish consumption is predicted to rise 58% by 2050 (Searchinger et al. 2014). However, the WRI study assumes that production from capture fisheries will actually decrease 10% during the same period. To meet consumption demand, aquaculture will need to at least double output. However, that would add to land use issues through the construction of 50 million acres of new production ponds. The authors pose that aquaculture must also become more land-efficient and that water recirculation technologies could help intensify production, reduce land use, and provide better pollution control.
Aquaponic production is a promising model for resource reuse and efficiency; this along with other regenerative agricultural techniques can have local impacts on many of these pressing problems and serve as a model for future technologies and developments.
Source: Janelle Hager, Leigh Ann Bright, Josh Dusci, James Tidwell. 2021. Kentucky State University. Aquaponics Production Manual: A Practical Handbook for Growers.