Aquaponics is a system that integrates the functioning of both aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (soilless medium to grow plants). It is a sustainable method of growing plants and fish that flourish in a symbiotic relationship, reduce waste, and maximize resource utilization. In aquaponics, nutrient-rich water is derived from the breakdown of fish excreta by nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and this essential nutrient-rich nitrate is then supplied to the plant. This type of system recycles about 98% of all the water used, thereby making it a sustainable fish and plant cultivation alternative. Aquaponics food production systems are water efficient, create minimum waste, produce high qualitative yields, eliminate need for soil, pesticides, and fertilizers, and find applications in deserts, degraded lands and sandy islands, among other places.
The development of aquaponics was positively impacted by the sustainable agriculture revolution. The concept of aquaponics emulates organic systems that are available naturally. The concept of hydroponics was a precursor to aquaponics and developed in the 1950s to tackle challenges such as scarce freshwater availability, poor soil, and excessive use of fertilizers. However, the disposal of waste products from these systems was complicated and led to the research and emergence of a new system called aquaponics. These systems overcame the problem of waste disposal of the hydroponic system. Aquaponic systems first emerged in university research projects and were widely accepted by people as a backyard hobby. This was later followed by the large-scale commercial development of aquaponics, the growth of which was initially slow and gradually gained traction. Aquaponics has overcome many problems that are being faced around the world, such as climate change, an increase in world population, and shrinking farmlands, among others. The aquaponics market will continue to grow at a steady pace to meet global challenges, and the incorporation of Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and industry 4.0 to these systems will drive the market by enhancing fish and plant growth.
Water is an essential and precious commodity, and the increasing global temperature due to climate change has disrupted the water cycle, leading to a shift in precipitation patterns and resulting in droughts or deluge. According to the UN Water, a subsidiary of the United Nations, in 2018, has reported that more than 2 billion people live in nations that are facing high water stress. In order to overcome the adverse effects of low availability of freshwater, researchers are developing and shifting to alternative food systems that are less water-intensive. This has led to an increase in the demand for aquaponics systems, where a majority of water is recycled through the system and uses less water as compared to traditional farming methods.
As per the data provided by a report of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, namely, the World Population Prospects 2019, the current world population is around 7.7 billion and expected to reach 8.5 billion and 9.7 billion by 2030 and 2050, respectively. This will result in an increase in demand for food globally, thereby increasing the stress on agricultural lands to produce large amounts of food crops to feed the increasing population. With adverse climate change in the form of droughts and floods increasing every year, it is important to switch to alternative methods of food production that can be set up anywhere, are less dependent on freshwater sources, and do not require fertilizers. Aquaponics systems present an excellent alternative to traditional agricultural practices, and this is expected to propel the demand for this market in the coming years.
Apart from reducing energy use and increasing the nutritional value of food and fish, aquaponics systems provide nutritious food options to the underprivileged section of the society and overcome various deficiencies plaguing it. For instance, as per the data provided by the World Health Organisation, around 250,000 to 500,000 children become blind every year due to Vitamin A deficiency. The growth cycles of vegetables in aquaponics systems are shorter as compared to traditional farming systems and can increase the production of vegetables rich in vitamins and minerals to overcome various deficiencies faced by children all over the globe. The increasing penetration and acceptance of aquaponics systems will create more job opportunities. Furthermore, the increasing demand for local produce will also bolster the growth of the aquaponics market.
Aquaponics systems require high initial investments for setup, which may hinder the adoption rate of aquaponics systems in developing economies. Furthermore, the increasing demand for alternates to aquaponics, such as hydroponics, aeroponics, haloponics, maraponics, and vermiponics, among others, may also hamper the growth of this market.
Deepwater culture systems enable the suspension of plants in polystyrene sheets that float in canals. This type finds widespread application in largescale commercial aquaponics. Media-filled bed systems are most prevalent where small-scale aquaponics systems are in demand as they are less expensive as compared to other types and most suitable for beginners in aquaponics. Lastly, the nutrient film technique typically involves the use of plastic containing a shallow stream of nutrient-rich water, with which the roots of plants are in direct contact. Fish are introduced into these channels to provide nutritional supplements to plants.
The various types of plants that can be grown in aquaponics systems include watercress, bok choy, butter beans, onions, chives, broccoli, sage, tomatoes, garlic, spinach, parsley, eggplant, coriander, and rockmelon, among others. Various types of fish that can be cultivated in aquaponics systems include catfish, crayfish, bluegill, hybrid carp, common carp, and large-mouth bass, among others.
Aquaponics has extensively been used in educational and research institutions to solve various problems that are gripping the world and study the various symbiotic relationships between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, energy production, and nutrient enhancement methods, among other factors. Furthermore, there has been an increase in the demand for backyard aquaponics systems in countries in North America and Europe.
The increasing demand for organic foods and alternative food systems that require less water, fertilizers, and pesticides results in the steady growth of the aquaponics market. Increasing consumer awareness about climate change and sustainable agriculture will further propel the growth of this market. North America is projected to witness the highest growth rate during the forecast period and has led the aquaponics market into growing organic plants and vegetables in short duration cycles of 30 days as opposed to the traditional 60 days period and offers higher quality and nutrition than traditional modes of agriculture. Furthermore, there has been rapid technological development in the aquaponics market that aims to improve efficiency levels of the aquaponics systems. For instance, companies such as Funk N Fresh Farm located in Texas, U.S., has integrated IoT with its aquaponics systems. This technology helps to grow and cultivate a variety of plants and fish all year round because of optimal conditions such as pH levels, temperature, and ambient lighting, which are maintained in the systems with the help of smart devices integrated with IoT. Furthermore, there has been an increase in the demand for the diversification of income streams in North America, which leads to the setup of aquaponics systems in backyards. It is estimated that there are roughly 3,000 to 5,000 backyard aquaponics systems in the U.S.
Industry participants involved in the aquaponics market are Nelson and Pade, Inc., Aquaponics USA, Green Life Aquaponics, Ultrasonics Canada Corporation, The Aquaponic Source, ECF Farm systems GmbH, Aqua Allotments, Endless Food Systems, AquaCal AutoPilot, Inc., Pentair Aquatic Eco-System, The Aquaponics Place LLC, Japan Aquaponics, Stuppy, Inc., Symbiotic Aquaponic LLC, Practical Aquaponics, and SynergyPonics, among others.