Cape Town - Stellenbosch University is researching the best aquaponics techniques to adopt when farming fish with plants and vegetables.
Aquaponics combines aquaculture (raising aquatic animals like snails, fish and prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water).
The principles of hydroponics and aquaculture are integrated to raise fish and plants together in separate units. The plants, which include anything from lettuce and water lilies to tomatoes, should get most of their nutrients from the water that circulates out of the fish ponds.
This farming method is slowly picking up in South Africa, with an abalone farm in Hermanus, a shellfish farm in Saldanha and a trout farm in Franshhoek adopting it.
On a smaller scale, Moyo restaurant at the V&A Waterfront has an aquaponics system.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, aquaculture has grown rapidly over the past 30 years. In the 1970s aquaculture accounted for about six percent of the fish available for human consumption. In 2006 it was 47 percent.
Henk Stander, manager of the university’s Welgevallen Experimental Farm, said they had received R100 000 from Richmond Mining and Exploration to build the aquaponics facility. The university would farm rainbow trout and tilapia and the outcome would determine the kind of vegetables that would be grown.
It was hoped that the success of the research would lead to a large-scale commercial project.
The mining company said it would also implement the methods the university came up with on a commercial scale on a farm in Dullstroom.
Martiens van der Merwe, Richmond’s managing director, said: “We hope to establish an aquaponics industry on the farm by which fish and vegetables can be raised.” - Cape Argus