Small-scale aquaponic food production. Integrated fish and plant farming

FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper No. 589

Small-scale aquaponic food production
Integrated fish and plant farming

Christopher Somerville

FAO consultant

Moti Cohen
FAO consultant

Edoardo Pantanella
FAO consultant

Austin Stankus
FAO consultant


Alessandro Lovatelli
FAO Aquaculture Branch

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Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Rome, 2014


Somerville, C., Cohen, M., Pantanella, E., Stankus, A. & Lovatelli, A. 2014.
Small-scale aquaponic food production. Integrated fish and plant farming.
FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper No. 589. Rome, FAO. 262 pp.

Aquaponics is a symbiotic integration of two mature disciplines: aquaculture and hydroponics. This technical paper discusses the three groups of living organisms (bacteria, plants and fish) that make up the aquaponic ecosystem. It presents management strategies and troubleshooting practices, as well as related topics, specifically highlighting the advantages and disadvantages of this method of food production. This publication discusses the main theoretical concepts of aquaponics, including the nitrogen cycle, the role of bacteria, and the concept of balancing an aquaponic unit. It considers water quality, testing and sourcing for aquaponics, as well as methods and theories of unit design, including the three main methods of aquaponic systems: media beds, nutrient film technique, and deep water culture. The publication includes other key topics: ideal conditions for common plants grown in aquaponics; chemical and biological controls of common pests and diseases including a compatible planting guide; common fish diseases and related symptoms, causes and remedies; tools to calculate the ammonia produced and biofiltration media required for a certain amount of fish feed; production of homemade fish food; guidelines and considerations for to establishing aquaponic units; a cost-benefit analysis of a small-scale, media bed aquaponic unit; a comprehensive guide to building small-scale versions of each of the three aquaponic methods; and a brief summary of this publication designed as a supplemental handout for outreach, extension and education. Aquaponics is an integrated approach to efficient and sustainable intensification of agriculture that meets the needs of water scarcity initiatives. Globally, improved agricultural practices are needed to alleviate rural poverty and enhance food security. Aquaponics is residue-free, and avoids the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Aquaponics is a labour-saving technique, and can be inclusive of many gender and age categories. In the face of population growth, climate change and dwindling supplies of water and arable land worldwide, developing efficient and integrated agriculture techniques will support economic development.


Preparation of this document
Abbreviations and acronyms
Figure credits
List of figures
List of tables

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Introduction to aquaponics

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Understanding aquaponics

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Water quality in aquaponics

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Design of aquaponic units

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Bacteria in aquaponics

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Plants in aquaponics

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Fish in aquaponics

  pdf [2.5 Mb]  


Management and troubleshooting

  pdf [625 Kb]  


Additional topics on aquaponics

  pdf [3.3 Mb]  

Further reading

  pdf [86 Kb]  


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Vegetable production guidelines for 12 common aquaponic plants

  pdf [939 Kb]  



Plant pests and disease control

  pdf [94 Kb]  



Fish pests and disease control

  pdf [70 Kb]  



Calculating the amount of ammonia and biofilter media for an aquaponic unit

  pdf [79 Kb]  



Making homemade fish feed

  pdf [116 Kb]  



Key considerations before setting up an aquaponic system

  pdf [79 Kb]  



Cost-benefit analysis for small-scale aquaponic units

  pdf [93 Kb]  



Step-by-step guide to constructing small-scale aquaponic systems

  pdf [3.5 Mb]  

Aquaponics quick-reference handout

  pdf [3.4 Mb]  

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E-ISBN 978-92-5-108533-2 (PDF)

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