CIRAD and its INTREPID Joint Research Unit (Integrated & Ecological Intensification for Sustainable fish Farming), are working on this innovative aquaculture technique that associates aquaculture farms with hydroponics (soilless cultivation on nutrient solutions), for their mutual benefit.
The initiative is also aimed at developing an innovative research and education platform centring on this new type of integrated aquaculture . A major partnership has also been established between research and development centres, agricultural colleges, French and international universities, firms, professional organizations and representatives of public authorities.
In an aquaponic system, plants treat the water by removing the nitrogen and phosphorus produced by the fish farm. The fish farm, for its part, provides the fertilizers required for plant growth, thanks to the waste it produces, which is thus recycled rather than being discharged and polluting the environment. The system can thus function in a closed circuit, with the water being fully recycled.
The technique is proving very popular, particularly in Australia and the United States, but also in arid zones where water is scarce and in urban areas where land is costly.
Aquaponics kits are already available, although more for leisure purposes than for economic production. However, with a view to ecological intensification, aquaponics is likely to develop worldwide in the coming years.
CIRAD is currently working on such systems with the AIT (Asian Institute of Technology), an international university with considerable experience of fish farming in Asia. In Asia, and particularly in Thailand, where aquaculture is a widespread, traditional activity, aquaponic production is faced with stiff competition from traditional production methods.
In the current situation, the technique is only economically viable with high added-value species, but could be a good way of supplying the capital, Bangkok. By supervising a PhD student, the AIT and CIRAD are aiming to develop an original aquaponic recycling system associating Mozambique tilapia, a micro-crustacean that filters water and is highly sought-after for use in fish tanks, and lettuces. These species were chosen for their high price in Thailand, which ensures that the system would be economically viable despite the competition from products generated by traditional agricultural and aquacultural systems.
This collaboration between CIRAD and the AIT is to be extended shortly to Réunion, through an experiment with ARDA (Association Réunionnaise pour le Développement de l'Aquaculture). To optimize the system, a large-scale prototype of hydroponic lettuce growing associated with tilapia farming has already been set up.