Eight students from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, USA, are in the city on a mission - to promote the concept of aquaponics. These students are part of an internship team who intend to set up a demonstration unit of aquaponics at St Albert’s College here during this month.
“They are trying to introduce a new concept called aquaponics,” said Ajith Thomas John, associate professor, Department of Aquaculture and Fisheries at St Albert’s College. “It combines aquaculture, which is raising aquatic animals in tanks, with hydroponics, which is growing plants in water,” he said.
Apart from the visiting students, the team includes two representatives of the Milwaukee-based Sweet Water Foundation, which engages in interdisciplinary programmes like aquaponics to teach students of science, technology, engineering and maths. “The beauty of aquaponics lies in the fact that it is so versatile and you can really innovate according to whatever is available locally,” said Chaya Nayak, who is on the board of directors at Sweet Water.
Both Nayak and her colleague Jason Axt insist that aquaponics is a highly sustainable and cost-effective way of food production. “From what we have done in the US, not only did we receive the gains from the fish production but also got higher returns on the vegetables,” said Nayak, explaining that vegetables grown by aquaponics were in demand because of the strong organic food movement in the US.
Aquaponic systems can be of any size - large ones for commercial purposes, medium-sized ones for NGOs or schools or a small aquarium-like in homes or classrooms. Maintenance of the system could take a maximum of two hours a day, according to Axt who is a technical consultant at Sweet Water. “Time taken would depend on how big and complex the system is,” he said.
Nayak agreed there were hurdles to clear such as the need for electricity and maintenance of the system, but felt that renewable sources such as solar panels can be a possible solution. “As of now, we are trying to find ways to adopt this model in Kerala and to garner the local community’s interest and involvement in it,” she said.
Another team member Shajan John from Mahattil International LLC, which is into educational consulting, was responsible for introducing the concept to Ajith Thomas John of St Albert’s College.
“Since Kerala imports nearly all of its vegetables from other states, I think the concept of ‘grow your own food’ should be popularised here,” he said. “That is precisely what we are trying to do here,” he added.
The team hopes to set up a fully-functional aquaponics system at the Department of Aquaculture and Fisheries at St Albert’s by the end of the month and plan to hold a one-day workshop on it to introduce it to the local community.