Is Fish Poop The Key to Global Food Security?

Drought, genetic modification, energy instability, population growth, war. All of these things have a major impact on the price and accessibility of food. A lack of food security has the biggest impact on poor and remote communities, since resources needed for planting, harvesting, and storing food are even harder to come by. In Nepal and other developing nations, aquaponics, a combination of aquaculture and hydroponic growing, is gathering steam as a possible solution.

Aquaculture is the practice of breeding, rearing and harvesting fish or other sea foods, usually in ponds, rivers, lakes and the ocean, although it can also be accomplished indoors as well. Hydroponics is the practice of growing vegetables in water and nutrients, without soil. Both of these food-producing strategies have been around for many years — just look for the “farm-raised” label on low cost fish — but it’s when they’re combined in a cyclical ecosystem that we start to see their full potential.

Aquaponics is the practice of growing vegetables in water that has been infused with, you guessed it, fish poop. Fed properly, farmed fish excrete valuable nutrients into the water, the water is transferred to the plant growing structure, plants extract the nutrients (which act as natural fertilizer), leaving behind clean water that can be transferred back to the fish. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The process produces fish and vegetables without the need for costly fertilizers, says Ram Bhujel, director of the World Aquaculture Society, a not-for-profit global network of aquaculture professionals affiliated with the Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand. It also conserves water and produces protein-rich foods without the costly cultivation of cattle, which could be a game-changer for under-served populations in water-poor countries.

The Rotary Club of Patan, Nepal, and the Rotary Club of Brussels – with funding from Rotary International and technical support from the social enterprise, Aquaponics UK – already run an aquaponics unit that supports a rehabilitation home for 20 children and mothers affected by HIV/AIDS. The system, operating since August, cost $10,000 with annual production estimated to be worth $8,000. In 2013, the Nepal government will survey operating units in the country and also consider setting up an experimental site, Tek Bahadur Gurung, director of livestock and fisheries research at the Nepal Agricultural Research Council, told SciDev.Net.

However, the benefits of aquaponics aren’t reserved for landlocked countries like Nepal. According to the Council of Australian Governments, remote indigenous communities in Australia have periods when they have no access to critical fresh foods. The island-continent’s hot climate and sandy soil make growing food outdoors difficult, but efforts to implement aquaculture technology could make it possible for these communities to cultivate fish and fresh vegetables right at home.

No, aquaponics isn’t a silver bullet. For one thing, there’s the question of power to consider. In remote communities, electricity can be just as scarce as water and fresh food. Of course, depending on size, aquaponics systems only need a relatively small amount of energy, most of which could probably be supplied through solar panels.

The point here is that today’s factory farm > grocery store > refrigerator system won’t feed 9 billion people. It’s already failing. We need alternatives, and they need to be cheap, efficient, and easily managed by communities, not corporations. If you don’t mind a little fish poop near your tomatoes, aquaponics is worth investigating before it’s too late.

Related Reading:

Will Technology Feed A Warming World?

Integrate Drought Plans Or Face Disaster, UN Warns

5 Ways To Increase Water And Food Security

Image via San Diego Hydroponics

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


Carrie Anne Brown

interesting article, thanks for sharing :)

Anthony B.
Anthony B.3 years ago

Hydroponics is one of the fastest growing trends these days. Several Hollywood celebrities and common people are growing hydroponics in their gardens. Scientists are also keeping more focus on developing technology in hydroponics. Recently, I found an interesting update about grow lighting in hydroponics -

Jim F.
Past Member 3 years ago

AQUACULTURE and HYDROPONICS have been around for many years.

Caring~2~Care of ourselves and our planet makes good sense, and it does a better job than the out dated practices that WE have used to degrade our own living place, our PLANET.

The "Easy ways" did damage to us all, the "simple ways" can help us rejuvenate ourselves and our PLANET ~~ we are all responsible and we all can support ways to make things cleaner and better for our kids and grandkids~~> and there's too.

Penny C.
Penny C.3 years ago


Frans Badenhorst
Frans Badenhorst3 years ago

well, this sounds good...thanks for posting, I love it when people THINK, headr of a guy farming with flies, they use the maggots to feed all kinds of animals

Linda W.
Linda W.3 years ago

Another reason to take better care of our oceans & its inhabitants

Laurie Greenberg
Laurie Greenberg3 years ago

Heather M., you crack me up! Yes, I've always thought a little fish poop in my vegetables makes them MUCH more tasty!

Debbie L.
Debbie Lim3 years ago

it will revolutionize factory farming and go back to old school farming with a little twist of modern techniques. Great idea!

Jane H.
Jane H.3 years ago

great idea--necessity is the mother of invention.

Klaus Peters
Klaus Peters3 years ago

I am going to have a good look at my Japanese carp pond, I might be able to float a few vegetable islands in there to help me clean the water instead of wasting it.