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Advancing aquaponics in the Caribbean

In Antigua’s aquaponics project, the farmer combines the recirculating aquaculture with hydroponic vegetables – the fish water is used as fertilizer for the plants, and the plants clean the water for the fish. This produces crisp lettuce then sold on the market.

A crisp, blue sign emblazoned with “FRESH TILAPIA” entices customers to stop in at Indies Greens in Upper Renfrew, on the Caribbean island of Antigua, to pick up these delicious fish for a panfry or barbeque.

Bred and raised in Antigua under the supervision of Larry Francis and his team, these tilapia are grown using aquaponics.
 
Aquaponics is a system that combines hydroponics, soil-less agriculture and aquaculture within a closed system.

There are three biological components in the aquaponics process: fish, plants and bacteria.

With aquaponics, the farmer combines the recirculating aquaculture with hydroponic vegetables – the fish water is used as fertilizer for the plants, and the plants clean the water for the fish.

The result is value-added, local production of both fish and vegetables together, using the same water.

In this carefully balanced system in use in Antigua, the water is always filtered, oxygenated and healthy, without any chemicals at all, which means that the quality and taste of the fish and lettuce are top notch.

These fish ponds produce high-quality tilapia.

“Aquaponic tilapia have little in common with their wild brethren growing in stagnant ponds – tilapia from aquaponics are clean-tasting and unpolluted with chemicals, and more importantly have an appealing and delicate flavour, while the hydroponic lettuce is crisp, crunchy and extremely fresh,“ explains Austin Stankus, FAO consultant facilitating aquaponics projects.

FAO is supporting the development of aquaponics throughout the Caribbean region, which began with a technical training workshop hosted at Indies Greens that took place 14-18 August 2017.

Fifteen participants from five countries (Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Grenada and St. Kitts and Nevis) took part in the training activities which included lectures and theoretical discussions on the biological, chemical and physical requirements to ensure the production of the highest quality fish and vegetables.

Other topics included alternative energy and best construction practices to ensure the system is cost effective and resilient to severe weather. Lectures were reinforced with hands on practical sessions, with participants carrying out every phase of tilapia production from breeding, feeding and harvesting, and seeding, transplanting, pest management and harvesting of the lettuce and vegetables.

As a final take-home exercise, participants designed their own system, complete with financial analysis, for implementation upon their return to their home country.

Aquaponics has the potential of higher yields of nutrient-rich vegetables and protein-rich fish with less labour, less land, fewer chemicals and a fraction of the water usage. Moreover, it is a potentially useful tool to overcome some of the challenges of traditional agriculture in the face of fresh water shortages, climate change and soil degradation.

Aquaponics works well in places where the soil is poor and water is scarce, for example in urban areas, arid climates and low-lying islands.

Aquaponics is an option for farmers with limited access to land and water, providing them with a chance to grow food. And overall it provides small-scale farmers the potential to earn a supplementary income, and for commercial farmers to create a viable business.

Packages of Indies Greens Organic Lettuce sold at the on-site market.

According to Raymon Van Anrooy, Aquaculture Officer in FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, “Aquaponics is receiving increasing attention as a viable method for providing fish protein, vegetables and profits to families and small communities.”

Now that the workshop is complete, FAO will continue to support the advancement of aquaponics through the construction of demonstration sites in partnership with Ministries from Member Countries and collaboration with the farmers and participants of this workshop.

On-going value chain analyses and marketing studies will help farmers identify and connect with consumers, especially hotels and restaurants serving the tourist sector, ensuring that the farmers are able to meet the specific demands for local organic fish and vegetables and take advantage of this lucrative market sector.

Finally, national workshops, held at the newly constructed demonstration centres, will help share the lessons learned from Indies Greens during the FAO workshop expand to interested farmers across the five islands.

These activities are part of FAO’s larger programme of aquaponic development, which has included several previous workshops and pilot interventions. The FAO Technical Manual on small-scale aquaponics is an excellent resource for anyone looking for more information or is interested in building a small-scale system of their own.

Aquaponics, as an efficient use of limited resources will be increasingly important as we collectively combat the challenges of climate change and water scarcity, and as we strive to meet the Sustainable Development Agenda of 2030.

In recent weeks various hurricanes of the highest category (5) struck many of the Caribbean islands with overwhelming effects. First Hurricane Irma devastated Barbuda, St Maarten, the Virgin islands, parts of Cuba and Florida, and she was followed by Hurricane Maria which hit Dominica and Puerto Rico badly.

Although Antigua, where Indies Greens is located, was spared the brunt of the storm, many communities throughout the Caribbean were ravaged. The overwhelming destruction of infrastructure, homes and businesses is overshadowed by the tragic loss of life. FAO stands in solidarity with those affected most. Currently emergency needs and damage assessments are being undertaken in various of the affected countries, with involvement of FAO.

The long process of rebuilding has already begun, and FAO will continue to do its part towards redevelopment through disaster risk reduction and improved resilience of agriculture and aquaculture. No farm can withstand the destruction wrought by a direct strike of a powerful hurricane, but well-designed systems can mitigate the effects of severe weather and help the farmer to rebound more quickly.

The FAO-GEF supported Climate Change Adaptation on the Eastern Caribbean Fisheries Sector Project (CC4Fish) is supporting 7 Caribbean SIDS with capacity building and technical advice to adapt to the effects of climate change and make the sector better prepared for natural disasters like these hurricanes.

Fifteen participants from five countries (Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Grenada and St. Kitts and Nevis) took part in the FAO aquaponics training activities.
Indies Greens in Upper Renfrew, on the Caribbean island of Antigua, gathers and packages their aquaponics-produced lettuce.
Caribbean participants in the aquaponics training learn the fundamentals of fish ponds in the aquaponics system.
Participants get hands-on training.
The final product – delicious, aquaponics-produced tilapia.
The Indies Greens Tilapia and Organic vegetable Farm in Antigua benefited from South-South cooperation and financial assistance, and FAO technical support.
The beautiful site of Antigua’s Indies Greens Tilapia and Organic Vegetable Farm – using aquaponics to produce quality fish and vegetables.

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