Agricultural advancements taking place in Egypt’s desert could pave the way for a whole new approach to cultivating fresh vegetables and fish in the GCC that’s four times more efficient than regular farms, and requires no fertile land.
The Bustan Aquaponics farm is a 1,000 square metre operation located on the outskirts of Cairo, and is the first and only commercial aquaponics farm in Egypt, producing pesticide-free tilapia fish, four varieties of lettuce, baby spinach, purple kale, swiss chard, celery, pak choi, wild rocket, gargeer, thyme and sage.
The system combines conventional aquaculture with hydroponics, where water and gasses from the fish are recycled and utilised by the plants as nutrients. The water is then re-circulated back to the aquaculture system. Launched 18 months ago, it has delivered an internal rate of return of between 20-30%, and has the potential to break even within the next six to 18 months.
The farm’s owner and manager, Faris Farrag, says the system is ideally suited to water-starved countries in the Gulf and wider region, and will deliver the message to a regional audience at the Agribusiness Outlook Forum, part of AGRA Middle East, which takes place from 25 to 27 March at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre.
“There are many benefits of aquaponic systems, primary among them is the ability to produce significant amounts of organic fish and vegetables from an extremely small amount of water and energy, without the need of agricultural land,” said Farrag.
“As the knowledge base grows there is excellent potential for large expansion of aquaponics as a system capable of fulfilling a part of the global food requirement while asking very little in return from the environment.”
He added that the speed and efficiency of the system keeps prices down for consumers, while its output equals that of a traditional farm more than four times its size. Unlike traditional farms, however, aquaponic farms can grow anywhere.
“Aquaponics are water efficient enough to work in extreme water deficient areas, and the economics do work,” he added. “The key is creating enough scale, which is why Bustan is expanding to two or three more units of its size to get to a medium sized commercial scale. At that point it will become very profitable. Even now I am cash flow positive.”
Farrag, who will present the ground-breaking Bustan Aquaponics farm case study at the Agribusiness Outlook Forum, said that the challenges facing aquaponics in the Gulf are in the areas of institutional knowledge and capacity building. As more projects start up, however, and their benefits are understood, the momentum will start to build.
“The Bustan Aquaponics project started with the belief that arid desert regions like ours must begin to think far more widely and creatively about food security and water conservation,” said Farrag. “These two issues are inextricably intertwined and crucially important in many parts of the world such as the Gulf region. As the issues of water conservation and food security gain momentum, so will the need to develop agricultural systems that are better suited for the region.”
The Agribusiness Outlook Forum is a feature of the opening day of the three-day AGRA Middle East exhibition, the region’s only event covering agribusiness, poultry & livestock, fishing & aquaculture, floriculture & horticulture and agricultural machinery & supplies.
Held under the patronage of His Excellency Dr. Rashid Ahmad Bin Fahad, Minister of Environment and Water, AGRA Middle East is sponsored by platinum sponsor Al Dahra Agriculture and supported by the UAE Ministry of Environment and Water.
AGRA Middle East is co-located with VET Middle East, the leading event for the burgeoning veterinary industry in the region, presenting an opportunity for international suppliers and local distributors to showcase latest technologies, equipments and medicines in the veterinary sector.
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