Muscat: Aquaponics is a time-tested amalgamation of age-old farming systems of aquaculture and hydroponics. As you are reading, aquaponics is fast going up the ratings chart as the best form of organic farming. Organic farm products, once a privilege of rural and suburban homes, have become the staple of urban households, and for good reasons.
“Aquaculture, also known as aqua farming, is the farming of aquatic organisms such as fish, crustaceans, mollusks and aquatic plants,” says James Paul, Chief Executive Officer and Partner of Oman’s aquaponics farm, Al Arfan farm. “Hydroponics is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil. Aquaponics combines the two. Our farm is the second biggest aquaponics farm in the region next only to the one in Abu Dhabi, and the only one of its kind in Oman, ” he adds.
While aquaponics has gained traction in recent times, it is in fact a very ancient farming technique. Historical evidence point at Aztec having used a system of chinampas or manmade agricultural islands in fish laden lakes and ponds to raise plants which could benefit from the nutrients provided by the fish and the abundant water supply.
Located 50km away from Muscat, in a place called Al Felaij is the 600 sq metre Al Arfan Aquaponics pilot greenhouse.
“We started the pilot project in 2016 and commissioned it on full swing two years back,” continues Paul. “We are able today to do an 8-acre farming in one acre farmland. Our goal is also to simultaneously develop a back end support team that will be able to train and develop farmers and offer sound technical support to all aquaponics projects in the Sultanate. The project will also aim to act as a training centre for aquaponics where world renowned scientists and aquaponics farmers will be invited to present seminars and courses open to all interested personnel.”
“The aquaculture here consists of 36 tanks with 5,000 litres of water with each tank having 400 Tilapia fish. The nutrient rich fish waste feed the plants, with its enriching content. The fish is harvested every six months when the fish grows to about 700 to 800 grams each. New fish fingerling is deposited fresh and the harvested fish is sold to a local catering company. We produce about 34 tonnes of Tilapia fish annually.” informs James.
The farm produces a variety of tomatoes like Italian Pozzano, Chadwick Berry, Green Zebra, Sun Gold and Valencia of the US, Spanish Marglobe, Asian long beans, rainbow chard, okra, palak spinach, spicy bush basil, Charentais melon, Genovis basil and curly kale among others. Apart from the reputed hotels in Oman, the Farm also caters its farm-fresh produce to a range of retail buyers and individual customers.
Among the many turnkey projects that Paul has in the pipeline, one is to develop the integration of a solar PV as an energy to power-up standalone aquaponics farms and possibly develop a complete off-grid farm in the rural areas of the Sultanate.