Aquaponics in Cuba: sustainability between food and water | In deep
The fish move by fluttering their fins. They insatiably search for the water they need. They survive in a container, waiting to be rescued and taken to the pond. Meanwhile, José Antonio Martínez and Joel López feel that their life takes place in a parallel universe in that microworld on the outskirts of Havana, Cuba.
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The fish can be named by José and Joel, as can some of the plants that form that vital space in which they live, placing hope to conceive another way of life.
Aquaponics is revealed not only as a local development project focused on the intensive production of organic fish and vegetables, but also as a commitment to reuse, movement, and incentive.
Reinvent and take advantage of everything, “even the fish waste is dried and that is marketed,” as Joel López says.
“We are committed to a prosperous business and the idea that came to us was this. We reuse the water, since it is poured only once in six months and is recirculated through the plants, which in turn take advantage of the metabolic waste of the fish to grow and return clean water to the pond,” says Joel López. with the certainty of a commitment to the territory where he deposits his utopia.
The JOJO aquaponic project, which is located in Barbosa in the capital municipality of Playa, is led by José and Joel. In this sense, Joel confesses that the idea arose in the middle of a pandemic because the country was going through a difficult period with respect to food, a situation that is currently no stranger.
“The food deficit was seen worldwide. This project is sustainable and profitable”, even though both protagonists point out that the initial investment is expensive.
JOJO Aquaponic has the idea of overcoming some of the current challenges of agriculture in Cuba, given the alert due to the absence of fertilizers and in a context where the nation cannot easily access the pesticides used for the agricultural process, and where on many occasions the market, from its operating logic, does not prioritize organic.
The fish farming area has 6,000 square meters, which was previously just weeds and now there are 12 ponds of 20 cubic meters, several of them with 500 fish. The cultivation houses are in the investment process. On the other hand, they use zeolite substrate with metabolic waste produced by fish and in the germinator experimentally lettuce and lemon seeds bloom: a vine of possible food for the soul and the stomach.
This project is one of the pioneers in Cuba, which hopes to diversify in the country and be a sustainable proposal over time.
Do you want to know more about aquaponics?
Aquaponics is a food production system that combines the raising of aquatic animals (aquaculture) with the growing of plants in water (hydroponics), by continuously recirculating water through the two subsystems.
The waste produced by some aquatic organism, generally fish or crustaceans, is converted through the action of bacteria into nutrients necessary for plant growth.
If we think about aquaponics, let's keep some words in mind: waste produced, aquatic organism, fish, crustaceans, action of bacteria, necessary nutrients, plant growth.
These words make up the process known as nitrification, where essential bacteria belonging to the genus Nitrosomona and Nitrobacter intervene. In some procedures, thanks to Nitrosomonas bacteria, ammonium from fish waste and food is converted into nitrites, and the nitrites are in turn transformed into nitrates by Nitrobacter bacteria.
These nitrates are absorbed directly by plants, which serve as biological filters in the system, purifying the water that returns to the fish pond.
What do you need to practice aquaponics?
Although the installation of the system can be complex and requires resources, you need a pond where the fish are raised, a pump to take the water from there to the hydroponic crop, some hydroponic gutters where the plants are located and irrigation is carried out, a piping system to carry all the solution and a filter system to prevent the pipes from clogging.
If we had to explain the simplified history of aquaponics in a timeline we could locate the original roots in the “chinampas”, the Aztec forms of cultivation in swamps and shallow lakes, where they planted corn, squash (also known as zucchini, pumpkin) and other plants.
The Aztecs practiced an early form of aquaponics, raising fish alongside crops. On these artificial islands, the “chinampas” were implemented, those navigable channels that surrounded the islands and were used for raising fish.
As is the practice today, in that culture, fish waste that fell to the bottom of the canals was recovered to fertilize the plants.
On the other hand, parts of the aquaponics system were also implemented in ancient China. Farmers knew that livestock waste could be added to their fields or ponds to increase the production of vegetables and fruit plants, although they noted that fish had different tolerances to the level of animal waste in the water.
According to platforms specialized in aquaponics research, towards the end of 1970, some scientific studies began to appear in Latin America, North America and Europe, demonstrating that metabolites produced by fish could be removed from the water for the cultivation of vegetables.
Although it was not until 2001 that, at the University of the Virgin Islands, Dr. James Rakocy developed the first commercial aquaponics system, which laid the foundations for its operation.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, among the countries that stand out for the practice of aquaponics are Argentina, Mexico, and Peru. Aquaponic projects have also been developed in Colombia and the Dominican Republic.
In an article proposed by the professor at the Tlaxiaco Technological Institute in Mexico, Omar Jiménez Márquez, he states that aquaponics represents not only a complete source of high-quality food, but also an opportunity for human beings to improve socioeconomic conditions. while contributing to food security.
"Despite the advantages that this food production system represents, the optimization of resources and the sustainability of the process, it is a technique that is not yet known and practiced in many places with development potential, due to lack of knowledge of its benefits regarding to the economic generation of food, optimization of resources and how friendly it is to the environment,” he reaffirmed.
Some interesting facts about aquaponics to bet on it
Although lettuce grows more easily, there are many vegetables that give excellent results.
For plants, gravel of different sizes is mainly used as a substrate.
The pollution of the aquaponic system is almost none. Being a closed system, the fish water circulates. Plants absorb nitrates as a source of nutrients and, in doing so, filter and purify the water to return it to the fish pond enriched with oxygen.
Tilapia is said to be the most common species of fish used in aquaponics and the most suitable for beginners, due to its tolerance to fluctuations in water parameters such as PH, temperature and dissolved solids. Trout, catfish, bass, crustaceans and goldfish can also be implemented.
Aquaponic systems can help purify and improve water quality and people's lives.
Australia has quite high environmental goals, being the country with the largest certified organic area, according to the Organic Agriculture Research Institute (FIBL), which is trying to promote aquaponics.
Between 2012 and 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) promoted a project to implement aquaponics in the Gaza Strip, where poor and urban families, predominantly headed by women, worked. Although due to lack of resource sustainability it did not become a long-term bet.
Aquaponics is also being seen as an educational tool that allows transversal learning of science.
In regions of the world where already scarce water reserves are increasingly limited, innovative ways of producing food are crucial.
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