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Organic plants that grow by fish… in the desert?

Society Sustainablity

Aquaponics is the marriage of aquaculture and hydroponics.

  • Hydroponics is the cultivation of plants with their roots immersing in water without soil.
  • Aquaculture is the raising of aquatic animals such as fish, snails or prawns.

This system can work at home, in the desert, in an arid mountain, anywhere! So let’s say you’re at home, here is what happens: An aquarium is associated with a tray with plants on top. The water from the aquarium is regularly pumped into the tray and the roots of the plants are permanently dipped into the water. Fish  produce ammonia rich waste. Bacteria are used to break down this ammonia into nitrates that are used by the plants as fertilizers. While the plants extract the water and nutrients they need to grow their roots filter and clean the water which is drained back into the fish tank.

The plants are mostly herbs if the system is a home system with a small aquarium and tray (that allows you to permanently have organic basil and mint at hand!), but it can be anything if your system is sufficiently big like cucumbers, sweet potatoes, strawberries etc… As we’ll see below, whole farms are based on these systems, including farms in the UAE.

At The Change Initiative you can find a cute aquaponics aquarium where you can plant your herbs directly. These herbs will grow from the food that is produced from the waste of the fish.

We show this system to kids regularly and we are preparing a program where kids will build their own system, from scratch (interested? Contact us!). They will even capture the fish first… Yes, -did you know it?- There are fresh water fish in the UAE! We discovered that thanks to our friends from Adventurati Outdoor.

Kids and aquaponics aquarium

We collaborate for the building of a home-made aquaponics system with Fresh Farm.

Aquaponics is very relevant in the UAE: indeed, it allows a substantial saving of water. The plants use only the water they need and the rest is sent back to the fish… When traditionally planted in soil, 95% of the water used for watering is wasted. We visited an actual farm that works based on the aquaponic principle. Fish, herbs and salads while the only input is fish-food and a bit of water from time to time.

In the fish tanks one can see a high density of fish… Remember, this is agriculture, it’s not industrial (and it IS organic) but the aim is still production…

Plants in the aquaponics farm


In this picture on the left one can see the ‘plant side’ of a real-size aquaponics system in the UAE. Starting from the bottom one can see the water coming from the fish tanks and right above. the floating trays with sterile stones in the holes in order to hold the roots of the plants. The green areas are the actual plants (various kinds of herbs). You can also see the evaporative cooling that is used in order to keep the temperature of the ‘inverted greenhouse’ reasonable (10 to 15 degrees centigrades lower than outside in the summer).

Now that you know everything about aquaponics, let’s see how quickly you can fill the circles!

Aquaponics exercise