Aquaculture for all

Meet the farmerDr Hesham Haggag: Egypt's aquaponics supremo

Husbandry Aquaponics Tilapia / Cichlids +8 more

Despite scepticism from some parts of the mainstream aquaculture sector, aquaponics can make a meaningful contribution to global food security, as well as a flourishing business, according to Dr Hesham Haggag – founder of Egypt’s first aquaponics business.

by Egyptian aquaculture specialist
Yomna Elshamy thumbnail
Man standing in a greenhouse
Dr Hesham Haggag, CEO of Aquaponic-Al Haggag Farms group in Egypt

Can you tell me a bit about your background?

I hold a doctorate in economics from Oxford University in England, and am currently the CEO of Aquaponic-Al Haggag Farms group in Egypt. I am also the executive director and advisor to another group of aquaponic farms in Egypt and the Arab countries.

What inspired you to pursue a career in aquaponics?

I’ve lived in countries including England, France, Argentina, the US, Japan, Russia, the UAE and Italy. And in the early 2000s I became aware of the emerging water problems around the world. This prompted me to search for ways to produce food with minimal water consumption. I began studying hydroponics and was fascinated by the idea. Then I found out that The University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) and the University of Hawaii had developed commercial-scale aquaponics systems, so I travelled to see their designs and operations.

When I returned to Egypt in 2010, I decided to implement the country’s first commercial aquaponics farm, based on the University of Hawaii’s model.

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Can you give a detailed overview of your farms?

The group now has four farms in Egypt under my management. The first farm was established in Haram City, with an area of 2,000 m2. Our production is intensive, with 130 tilapia per m3 with a ratio of one fish per plant. The farm consists of one fish tank of 100 m3 and nine plant systems with an area of (2 x 24) m per tank. The average fish production is 500 to 800 kilograms per month with an average weight of 250 g per fish. In terms of crops it produces lettuce, celery, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and others.

The second farm is in Beni Suef. It is fully automated and dedicated to the production of medicinal and aromatic plants, the production of which is allocated to an oil extraction factory. The farm also produces 4 tonnes of tilapia per month.

The others are a 10-acre farm in the Al Khatatba area, which produces contract crops for companies, such as sunflowers, sesame and soybeans, and a 20-acre farm in the Siwa Oasis which produces olives, as well as some medicinal and aromatic plants. Both produce tilapia too.

Man with lettuce
Dr Haggag tending to crops

The group has four farms under Dr Haggag's management, all producing Nile tilapia alongside the various crops

Why did you choose the species that you are producing?

We tried raising many types, but ultimately, we settled on monosex Nile tilapia, because of its popularity in Egypt, robust nature and rapid growth.

What have been the main milestones so far?

The most important achievement is spreading awareness in the field of aquaponics, as I have contributed to establishing a large number of farms inside and outside Egypt. I have also trained a large number of young people over the last ten years and the farm received visits from people from the Netherlands, Sweden, and the Mediterranean countries. Another achievement is that we’ve been producing continuously for 13 years.

What outstanding challenges remain?

Controlling the pH is the most important consideration when running an aquaponic farm, so one of the most important challenges is keeping it that between 6.5 and 7. Providing proper nutrition for the fish is also important.

What are the plans for the future development of the farms?

Adopting more technology relating to water monitoring and feeding, as well as continuing to develop the feed formula, as we produce our own fish feed, in part through using our own black soldier fly larvae, which helps to reduce costs.

Man standing on construction site
Dr Haggag at one of his farms that is under construction

Dr Haggag believes aquaponics can be profitable, but acknowledges that the high initial construction cost is a challenge

What is your advice to anyone considering establishing an aquaponics venture?

The most important advice is to determine the market, because the cost of transportation can exceed the cost of production, and because the customers for aquaponics products are different – our crops are classed as organic, as they are produced without any fertilisers. This gives us a small premium and we supply restaurants and hotels far from the capitals.

Practical experiences are easy to learn, but the location makes the key difference in the success or failure of the project.

Can aquaponics farms be profitable?

Of course they can be profitable, as the plants are produced with the fish at the same running cost as producing the fish only. However, the high initial construction cost is a challenge.

Can aquaponics make a genuine contribution to feeding the growing global population?

Certainly. Some of my farms and the farms I supervise inside and outside Egypt provide a large volume of healthy food.

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