Do you have enough to eat? Can you easily get more? Is food scarce where you live? Or is it unaffordable? These are Food Security issues, and one of the great things about aquaponics is that it can help overcome food insecurity for a lot of people. It puts control of the food supply into the hands of the people who eat it.
Here in Australia, we’re really blessed that food is usually fairly plentiful. But, you know what? Even in parts of Australia, the food supply can become interrupted. Remote communities, where food has to be trucked in from hundreds of miles away, can sometimes be threatened with food shortages. Maybe the roads get cut off by floods or the bridges get washed out by a cyclone, or something like that. The trucks can’t get through, so the food supply dwindles.
In other parts of the world, it’s sad to say that armed conflict is another way that people’s food supply can be interrupted. And, unfortunately, it’s affecting more and more people worldwide. Wars. Military action. Civil unrest. Sometimes, crops are deliberately destroyed by the enemy, but sometimes the people just get cut off from their usual supplies. Like the people who live in remote regions, their trucks of food stop coming. Now, I’m not saying that growing your own food can cure situations where war drives people out of their homes; but in places where the supply has simply been cut off, having the ability to grow your own food can make a huge difference. In some cases, it literally could be the difference between life and death.
The food supply can be interrupted from the other end, too – the production end. Climate change is increasingly threatening the agriculture that so many of us have come to rely on for our food. Freak weather events are becoming more common, and can lead to the destruction of crops. In Queensland, for example, destructive storms can hit just about any time of year and wipe out entire fields of crops. Strong winds can blow fruit off the plants or flatten crops right down to the ground, snapping or uprooting them beyond recovery. Floods wash away both the crops and the soil they were growing in, and excess rain can cause fruit and veg to split and rot. Hail is also a big problem, damaging both the plant and its fruit. And even if this doesn’t happen all that close to harvest time, damaged plants will not produce as well, so harvests – and, therefore, food supply – will be down.
On the other extreme, of course, there is drought, in which you can’t get crops to grow in the first place. This is a significant problem in some parts of the world, and people really suffer for it. How often on the news do we hear about a famine somewhere? Far too often.
To protect crops from weather events like this, a lot of producers are moving towards covered growing. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever see entire wheat farms, for example, covered in greenhouses but there are lots of other crops, like tomatoes or cucumbers or lettuce, that can easily be grown in greenhouses, even in commercial amounts. Probably most of the things you might buy at your average fruit & vegetable shop could successfully be grown in greenhouses. And if you have to build an enclosed growing system, aquaponics is an excellent choice. When they’re well-managed, aquaponics systems are extremely productive and can provide a reliable, on-going source of fresh food.
The points I’ve mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg for food security. There are other aspects, like declining crop yields, or simply not knowing how to properly prepare the food, even if it is available. Micro-nutrient deficiency is another aspect; this is where you have enough to eat so that you’re not hungry, but it’s not providing your nutritional needs. This leads to various health issues, which can make life harder and often lead to an early death. Children are especially at risk of this type of ‘hunger’.
In just about every one of my 4-Day Master Class courses, there will be at least one student who is learning aquaponics for the sake of setting up some kind of humanitarian project in a developing country. They can see its potential. It can give poor households and communities the ability to grow their own reliable source of high-quality food. That takes an enormous stress off people, knowing that they can put food on the table. And not only can they learn how to provide for themselves, but their produce can also turn into a business opportunity for them. The impact of an aquaponics system in a poor community can be huge and far-reaching. What is it they say? – take one person out of poverty and they’ll take ten others with them. I just don’t think you can overestimate the importance of these sorts of projects in some parts of the world.
Grow Your Own – Aquaponically!
Even in developed countries, though, many people, myself included, feel that a food crisis is likely some time in the near future. I think it is going to become increasingly important for people to be able to grow their own food at home, or at least to be able to buy good food that has been grown locally. And aquaponics could be a big part of this – just about anyone can do it, just about anywhere, and it really can provide a secure, reliable source of high-quality food. Right in your own backyard. How good is that!