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‘Aquaponic farms’ could enable cities to produce more food sustainably

Sustainable farming news – by GreenWise Staff
30th September 2013
A system of food production that combines fish breeding and vegetable growing without the use of soil could transform our urban roofspaces into highly productive sustainable farms and help address a looming global food crisis, according to scientists.
Researchers at Zurich University have developed a 'aquaponic farm’ on a rooftop in the city of Basel in Switzerland. The £500,000 project combines fish breeding and vegetable growing using 'hydroponics’, a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil.

'Sustainable intensification' of agriculture
The 260-square metre (m2) research farm is capable of producing 5000 kilogrammes (kg) of vegetables and 800 kg of fish every year. The farm has produced an assortment of vegetables, including peas, salad leaves, tomatoes and courgettes.

The researchers say the innovative farming system addresses the challenge of producing more food without encroaching on uncultivated land, a policy known as 'sustainable intensification’ of agriculture. 

Acquaponic farms produce little to no waste, require minimal fertilisers or pesticides and can produce crops throughout the year.

Growing population
It is estimated that by 2050 two billion more people will be living on the planet and 70 per cent more food will need to be produced. Governments, scientists and farmers around the world are increasingly looking at how production and consumption could in the future meet competing demands of producing more food and improving the environment. Urban farming is one possible way of achieving this. 

Scientists at the University of Zurich worked out that if just five per cent of Basel’s roofspace was turned over to aquaponic production, these urban farms could produce between eight to 20 per cent of all fish and vegetables consumed in Basel.

Resource efficiency
Presenting the findings at an event at Scotland’s Rural College last week, Dr Valentini Pappa, said aquaponic farms were a "key technology for resource efficiency" in food production.

"Aquaponics can help secure food security by increasing the food production within an already used space, and because the food is grown so locally these systems are very low in food miles," he said. 

The Basel project was run in partnership with Urban Farmers, an organisation that has designed an 'Urban Farmers’ Box’. The 18 m2 greenhouse style system will provide 60 kg of fish and 120 kg of vegetables annually – enough fish and vegetables to feed a family of three.

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