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Aquaponic system on the rooftop

An Aquaponics Life lesson

The eminent Italian writer of the 1900s, Alberto Moravia, once wrote: The experiences that matter, often are the ones that we wouldn’t like to have, not those ones that we choose to have.”

My brother and I grew up in an apartment in Rome amid crayfishes. My father had built a small greenhouse in the garden, that surrounded our apartment. Inside it, he raised these crayfishes in 4 big oval tubs, traditionally used in Italy for the grape stomping.Therefore, it could happen to find some fugitive at home.

My father is a marine biologist, but when I was born he reinvented himself as computer specialist to support our family. Consequently, he temporarily confined his passion to our backyard and in a blog. Then, 9 years ago my grandfather died of cancer and we decided to move in Ancona. With the inheritance my parents had co-founded two companies, whose core business was this innovative system of growing fish and vegetables together, known as Aquaponics.

He gained knowledge of Aquaponics searching on the Net any expedient to lower the fixed operating costs of Aquaculture systems. So, he ran into an American article on this innovation of the field and he began to look into its potentialities. It could be the key to fulfill his lifelong dream of bringing Aquaculture in everyone’s houses, just alike our grandparents had the hen-house in the backyard.

But importing an innovation in a so conservative Country such as Italy isn’t an easy job, overall in the Region Marche where my parents had chosen to settle. Here Aquaponics has to collide with the deep-seated culture of traditional agriculture, that makes very tough to convince the farmers to integrate this method in their productive agricultural facility. Furthermore, Aquaculture isn’t a field well-developed around Europe — with the exception of the Northern Countries — if you consider that just a quarter of fish products consumed is farm-raised and the EU depends on imports from third Countries. In Italy, till recently we exploited sea resources to satisfy our internal demand of fish. Right now, all the fish, which we consume, has been imported from third Countries.

At this point maybe someone of you is wondering, “Ok…it sounds all good, but what precisely is Aquaponics?”

Image shared on Twitter by @FAOfish

Aquaponics is a system, that allows to save the 90% of water to farm both fish and vegetables. Water of fish tank is made every 45 minutes circulating for 15 minutes in growbeds where good bacteria cleanse it of all the fish waste, which transform into nutrients for plants. Water so purified is pumped back in the fish tank. Thereby, this is a win-win ecosystem, which is based on the principles of Hydroponics combined with closed loop of RAS (Recirculating Aquaculture System). In America, the aquaponic products are labelled as “organic” — because you can use neither chemical pesticides nor fertilizer in order to not damage the system - but in Italy we’re so far away from reaching that goal.

Green Relief’s facility in West Flamborough, Ontario

The other main difficulty, that an entrepreneur in this field has to face in Italy, is the ignorance of all the Institutions on the matter. Even the national authority responsible for sanitation services don’t know how to carry out controls in aquaculture and aquaponic facilities. There are invasive species — like for example the Louisiana crawfish (Procambarus clarkii)- in respect of which there is a legal vacuum and the only restriction concerns its breeding, no less.

The main clients, who contacted the company of which my parents were co-founders, were Italian neets, who pinned their hopes on participating in the open calls for proposals and get the European funds to start up their own business in this field. Nevertheless, knowing nothing of Aquaponics, they couldn’t design a project to submit, but they had no enough money to pay for the company’s consultancy or enough motivation to start with an online training course to learn how to do on their own. While the Universities did have neither the know-how nor the capital into which to tap.

So this spring, after 9 years of financial distress and the scam of the majority shareholder, my parents finally decided to embark on a process of revolution of their business model and they asked for my help. This is how it happened that I was addressed by circumstances to my own path.

I’m not a biologist and Aquaponics isn’t my passion, but I believe in the opportunities that it can provide in these hard times to face the massive world-wide challenges, such as: unemployment; integration of migrants; desertification of lands; contamination of water sources; drought; urban decay; the urgency of a 70% increase of a sustainable food production by 2050 to satisfy the food requirements of 2,3 billion of people; etc...

According to the European Commission’s stats, the consumption of fish in Italy is raising, indeed the annual average of fish products consumed by each Italian in 2017 has reached 25 kg, while in 2016 was amounting to 16 kg. The European average amounts to 22,5 kg. This is the result of campaigns, that promote a healthier nutrition, together with a growing awareness of the heavy carbon footprint linked to the intensive animal farming.

However, what I mainly appreciate of Aquaponics is the message that sends, namely that every waste substances, if correctly processed, may be turned into a renewable source of Life. From toxic for fish into nutrient for plants and then restart the cycle. A miniature ecosystem, that represents the fragile balance, that rule Life on Earth.

And we all play a crucial role in protecting it, even in our small day-to-day contribution. We just need to become aware of it and take 100% responsibility on how our actions affect the biosphere.

This is the lesson I’ve learnt in my everyday experience with Aquaponics and it is why I’m promoting it in my little around the World.