1. Success Story

A Village Finding Future in Aquaponics

Karthika B. P.
Karthika B. P.

What is the relevance of doing aquaponics in a coastal village? How is it possible? How do they accept the concept of farming fish and vegetables in a single space? These are some of the questions asked by the common when the concept of aquaponics was introduced in Cherai, a coastal village situated in Kochi, Kerala.  

Cherai is famous for its magnificent scenic beauty of backwaters and beach. Now, it has one more feather added to her cap being “India’s First Aquaponics Village”. Apart from tourists, the village attracts farmers and entrepreneurs from different parts of the country with its successful sustainable story. 

Two years ago, Pallippuram Service Cooperative Bank started aquaponics project on pilot basis with an objective of farming chemical-free vegetables and fish. They gave guidance and financial support to the farmers with the assistance given by MPEDA (Marine Products Export Development Authority). MPEDA provided fish seeds, feeds, water quality detection kit and technical training for the farmers. After one year, the number of farmers who wanted to master the concept has gone up and the project has been expanded as “Cherayi Aquaponics Gramam”.   

“In the beginning, there were only a few farmers and it was difficult for us to convince them. As they moved into this farming system, they realized the importance of natural and common resources for sustaining their own livelihood. Now, more than 200 aquaponics units and so many people are being interested to start this” says Sathyan Mayyattil, former president of the bank. He is one of the masterminds who initiated this project.  

Green Way of Fish Farming 

Aquaponics system essentially consists of a grow bed and a fish tank. The grow beds have sheets of gravel where the plants are grown. These two components are interlinked by two pumps; first pump blows air into the pond while the other pump is used for pumping water from the fish pond into the gravel. These pumps need to run continuously. Water in the pond is rich in ammonia due to fish waste. Ammonia in water gets converted into nitrites and nitrates through bacterial action making it crucial for plant growth. It’s especially important to maintain water temperature, ammonia levels etc. Failure to do any of those will result in the death of fish. And due to its automatic re-circulating system, aquaponics does not need much monitoring.   

Almost all the freshwater fish species can be grown in the system. GIFT Tilapia (Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia), a cultured variety of the popular fish developed by MPEDA is the preferred variety as it has a high growth rate within a few months. Usually, leafy vegetables are the only plant species cultivated in the grow bed. But here, we can see vegetables, fruits and flowers.  

One of the first Aquaponics cultivators of the village, Sasidharan, has been successful in growing vegetables in hundred bags by using 14,000-litre fish tank, which contains more than 1500 fish. Another entrepreneur, Dileep Kumar is experimenting with different styles of aquaponics in his terrace. The major advantage of this system is the obtainment of organic and healthy food, low water consumption, adding greenery in the roof, and no pollution to the surroundings, farmers assure. “The initial investment is very high but it can be recovered after one year. Every month, bank arranges meeting for farmers and conducts classes on aquaponics. We will keep on helping the farmers in their initiatives”, says Ashadevi, the bank secretary.    

“Need for continuous power supply and its cost is an issue for everyone that decides to start up an aquaponics system. Solar energy is an effective solution” says Kishore Kumar a retired forest officer turned farmer. He is one among the people who first started the units. He operates his farm by using solar panel fixed on the roof and utilizes the potential of this integrated system effectively. Natural feed such as rice bran, coconut and groundnut oil cakes are the commonly used fish feeds. For fishing worms, he has developed a compost bin by using kitchen waste. “Plants and fish have equal importance in an aquaponics system. They are interdependent and you simply cannot have one without the other, so it’s vital that both are well looked after”, he adds. He is also taking classes on aquaponics, which is organized by the bank. As a consultant on aquaponics, he travels in and outside of Kerala for sharing his experiences and updates.  

Experts claim that this system has triggered a hope for both the fishermen and farmers those who have been facing the severe consequences of climate change. Considered as an alternative to mitigate the effect of climate change on food production, aquaponics has been gaining momentum in many parts of the State. For them, Cherayi is a valuable lesson, not just teaching the basics of a farming system. But, teaching the lessons of harmony, sharing, learning from each other and most importantly, the way of sustainability and self sufficiency. It is surely a step towards a “green future”…  

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