According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “nearly 850 million people in 77 lower-income countries are food insecure.”1 With war, poverty, population growth, environmental degradation, corruption, and disease, food insecurity continues to grow, and the distribution of food increasingly becomes unequal. Moreover, as societies move from predominantly rural to urban, lower income country’s ailing food infrastructures face additional challenges, needing to adapt traditional farming methods, and transportation infrastructures to the demands of rapidly growing urbanites. In order to prevent food insecurity, countries must adapt their food systems by utilizing farming methodologies that are scalable, sustainable, and environmentally oriented but require little capital expenditure. By doing so, they can not only confront higher demand for food products, but can do so while protecting (and at times repairing) natural resources.
Aquaponics, the symbiotic production of fish, plants, and bacteria in a recirculating water system, holds promise in contributing to the re-creation of food infrastructures to be not only more sustainable but also produce higher yields of nutrient rich food products. It has the unique ability to provide substantial amounts of nutritionally rich herbs, vegetables and fish while addressing water deficiency and the restraints of capital expenditure.
By integrating aquaponics into the adaption of 21st century food systems, countries can sustainably increase the production of fish as a highly nutritious cash crop while also diversifying farmer’s products with the integration of vegetables, fruits, spices and herbs.
Growing Networks, in partnership with Sweet Water Foundation, a non-profit aquaponics academy, UW-Madison, and Mahattil LLC, seeks to democratize the aquaponics movement by creating networks of support between countries that already have a burgeoning Aquaponics movement and countries that are currently nurturing the seeds of the fledgling industry. Through the democratization of Aquaponics, Growing Networks will aid in the re-imagination of the world food system to encourage local production and consumption of highly nutritious food that promotes the values of the triple bottom line.
In order to reach these goals, Growing Networks will use aquaponics as the foundation of a movement in education, food production, and economic innovation. Case studies on the value of aquaponics farming methods in Milwaukee, WI have demonstrated that the aquaponics industry has direct implications not only on the production of healthy and nutritious food, but also on revitalization of both the built and natural environment, and effecting positive growth in local economies. Aquaponics additionally is being explored as a means to impact educational paradigms, processes of community revitalization, and art and culture.
Background- The WI-Kerala Aquaponics Connection:
The Empowerment through Aquaponics project in Kerala, India will unleash the potential of aquaponics technologies, practiced by Sweet Water Organics, Inc. (a Milwaukee, Wisconsin based company with a charitable foundation aimed at capacity building) to potentially millions of Indian citizens—who will be able to produce affordable toxin free nutritious vegetables and fish for consumption and sale. The aim is to provide Indian citizens with an easy means of obtaining Aquaponic fish and vegetable growing kits for home and school use and for large scale production in an urban setting. The long- term goal is that individual citizens and cooperatives will be empowered to directly address food security issues through aquaponics.
The project also aims to provide students from the University of Wisconsin - Madison with a unique hands-on international experience centered on global health and sustainability issues, both as service-learning project designers/consultants for Sweet Water Foundation during the spring semester, as well as 8- 10 internship placements in India to implement the project. Meaningful interaction with the Sweet Water team in Milwaukee and the Indian intern hosts, students and the communities in India is a central aspect of the program.
The organizers hope to use this pilot program to develop a template for building link between Wisconsin and global locations through the platform of aquaponics as a solution to food security. This we hope will launch our global localization of aquaponics for producing local food for local consumption. In the process a network of networks will form that learn from each other and share to solve real problems. This network will directly feed into Sweet Water Foundation’s AQUAPONS program, a digital platform and curriculum, which seeks to create networks of Aquapons globally, impacting education, the environment, while growing communities.
In addition to the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a major partner in the pilot initiative, Growing Networks has partnered with St. Albert’s College’s Aquaculture facility in Kerala, India. The university Wet Lab is the location in which the student- constructed aquaponics system will be located and St. Albert’s students and staff will provide Growing Networks with the capacity to monitor and adapt the aquaponics system when the student group departs. The information and research garnered from this system will be utilized to scale Growing Networks work in India.