Tierras y Aguas

Health and Nutrition-Sensitive Agriculture for Soils and Water

Increasing water scarcity, food insecurity, unpredictable weather patterns, global conflict and climate change straining global food systems are expected to undermine the productivity of smallholder farmers and exacerbate growing rates of malnutrition. Good nutrition requires reliable access to safe soil and water for both food production and preparation as well as optimal sanitation and hygiene practices. Yet about one-third of the world’s population currently lives in water-stressed environments. Strengthening sustainable food production through nutrition- and water-sensitive production methods as well as shortened distribution systems is key to fighting hunger and tackling the double burden of associated malnutrition.

Hydroponics and Aquaponics

Alternative farming techniques such as aqua- and hydroponics, for example, can be utilized as health and nutrition-sensitive agriculture and embraces all dimensions of food security. The integrated Water-Energy-Food framework for the planning of aqua- and hydroponics should improve access of urban poor to healthy foods and fresh fruits and vegetables. For example, contrary to allotment gardens in peri-urban and urban areas, hydroponic systems do not require much space, use recycling water systems, and can be realized in small areas in and around the homestead.

While alternative techniques can be utilized by a variety of stakeholders, specific knowledge and skills must be developed for safe, successful and sustainable implementation. Important considerations include, but are not limited to, water quality parameters and testing, water sourcing and biosecurity (such as sanitation and hygiene) for preventing waterborne diseases. FAO provides knowledge resources, guidance and training to support the adoption of these water-saving, resource-efficient alternative farming techniques for various economic circumstances.

Hydroponics, by definition, is soil-less agriculture, a method of growing plants in a water-based, nutrient-rich solution. The root system of the crop/vegetable is supported using an inert medium such as perlite, rockwool, clay pellets, peat moss, or vermiculite. The basic premise behind hydroponics is to allow the plant’s roots to come in direct contact with the nutrient solution, while also having access to oxygen, which is essential for proper growth.  Aquaponics is a system that combines hydroponics 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 (FAO, 2014). Dietary quality and diversity must be improved to truly achieve global food security. For example, by strengthening the capacity of smallholder farmers in various settings to adopt sustainable water, soil, and agronomic management practices, more diverse nutrients and better economic prospects per drop of water can be achieved. 

FAO launches “Hydroponics and Aquaponics” water-saving systems in Jordan 

Water scarcity in Jordan is driven primarily by its arid to semi-arid climate and by population increases experienced in recent decades; in particular, the status of Jordan’s groundwater is of critical concern. Jordan’s groundwater resources remain under threat from mismanagement and over-exploitation, linked specifically to the expansion of irrigated agriculture.

To alleviate pressures on Jordan’s already scarce water resources, FAO launched a pioneering project to provide capacity building and technical support for the Integrated Agri-Aquaculture (IAA) farming systems in Jordan. The project is designed to train unemployed agricultural engineer graduates and farmers, set up a knowledge base and research on “Hydroponics and Aquaponics” farming units. Furthermore, it aims to contribute to support employment of youth and women job seekers, through the creation of employment opportunities in aquaponics and hydroponics.

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