Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Feeding the Hungry Scientifically with Aquaponics

Over 80% of the population in Burkina relies on farming to provide food for their families. The growing season is about three months long and if the rains start too late or too early this can devastate crops and leave families short on food.

The main component of most people's diets is a starch and a sauce. Very little protein is eaten because it very expensive. Protein will usually come from dried fish ground up and added to sauce, beans and a peanut based sauce. Because of the lack of protein many children are malnourished and wounds have a difficult time healing.

With these facts in mind we were very excited when we caught up with a friend in the U.S. who has an aquaponics farm. We took this idea back with us in hopes that this could be something used here in Burkina to extend the growing season and to make a plentiful protein source. Aquaponics is a system where water from tanks is pumped through tubes and back into the tanks. In the tubes are plants that grow in a medium that uses no soil. In the tanks are fish. The fish fertilize the water, the plants soak up the nutrients and clean the water and the filtered water goes back into the tanks.

We knew that this was going to be an experiment and that we would be learning along the way. We had many things to take into consideration as the nearest Home Depot for us in on another continent thousands of miles away. What energy source are we going to use to pump the water? What medium are we going to use to grow our plants? How are we going to construct our tanks? What are we going to feed our fish? How are we going to keep the right balance of Ph, ammonia, nitrates, nitrites...well, you get the idea.

Checking on plant growth
Trip to catch starter fish

So every day we feel like we are in science class and every day we learn something new. We are using solar power and car batteries to pump our water. We are seeking out the man who sells coconuts so we can get the husks to try as a growing medium. We are saving egg shells to help regulate the Ph. We have started a worm farm to feed the fish. We are figuring out the best way to construct a tank for holding water. We currently have cement, but that messes with the alkaline so we have painted the inside of a tank to see how that works. In the village we are thinking of something totally different for holding water...maybe animal skins or holes lines with plastic sheeting.

Worm Bed...Fish Food!
Painted tank in front. Unpainted in back.

In the end we hope to have a system that is inexpensive, uses all materials found in a village and runs using wind power. We have a long way to get from here to there but we are driven by the fact that this could be a life changing thing for the people here.

What might we learn tomorrow?

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