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Conservation Aquaculture: A New Approach

A few weeks ago, I started to brainstorm projects for the capstone assignment required by my university. The first round was research based, and so I have compiled a sort of annotated bibliography containing information on how conservation aquaponics could be used to increase food security while working with conservation efforts.

I realize this is a lot of information, and will probably create a shorter post on Instagram!

Aims for this Project

In this assignment, we will look to understand the importance behind the use of aquaponics in conservation, both analyzing why it is an important asset socially as well as how it might contribute to the conservation of freshwater fish. While we hope to understand what potential role local communities might play in implementing conservation aquaponics as a provider of affordable and sustainable food in Kenya, we must first start by defining conservation aquaponics and looking into the need for such a thing.

Conservation aquaponics can be defined as the implementation of aquaponic systems in a community which allows for the sustainable production and consumption of endangered species. Though there are many reasons for this to occur, it has not been researched or implemented as of yet in the exact way proposed here. Many organizations have implemented breeding programs for endangered species for consumption, most notably the consumption of caviar from endangered sturgeon. However, these have largely acted as status symbols and do not necessarily benefit local communities or incentivize conservation of these species. By utilizing conservation aquaponics, we can implement a system that is more water efficient than traditional agriculture for producing crops while simultaneously growing fish for controlled consumption.

The following annotated bibliography will analyze and critique the literature relevant for understanding the use, potential benefits, and implementation of this concept in order to shed light on whether or not this project would be beneficial to the field of freshwater conservation.


Deliverable: Annotated Bibliography

AQUACULTURE: A bright future for Africa. (2013). Spore, 166, 13–17. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24344324

This article covers the development of aquaculture as an industry across the world, citing growth of aquaculture in every continent. In this article, aquaculture is defined as the breeding of fish and aquatic plants for consumption, specifically in freshwater. Currently, over 600 species are bred in over 190 countries. Focusing on Africa, the article states that aquaculture is a crucial industry, citing its importance next to products such as rice and maize as a staple in people’s lives. The article covers the socioeconomic benefits to implementing small-scale fish farms, including increased food security, creating jobs, and creating grassroot movements for both rural and urban communities. The authors state that fishing is currently an important part of food security and economic development, but that wild-catch has been falling over recent years due to increased industrial pollution, tourism, and overfishing. While industrial farms have been implemented, the countries that use them have no more than three for the whole country. Considering the increased demand, stagnating supply, and constraints on importing, aquaculture is a viable solution. The article covers the international effort, including using tested food to grow the fish, Thai models to set up the farms, and investors from the Netherlands, indicating that this is an international effort that transcends borders. Lastly, the article covers the potential weaknesses of aquaculture, including the susceptibility to bacteria, fungus, water pollution, and natural disasters as risks for captive populations.


Fish farming: Angles on aquaculture. (2007). Spore, 132, 8–10. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24343303

This article again discusses the importance and use of aquaculture, but is more critical and number-driven. Additionally, it mentions the importance of ornamental species as well as species for consumption. Aquaculture is a strong alternative to arable agriculture, especially when crops fail and the growth of fish in conjunction with crops creates a symbiotic relationship: the fish can be fed waste and byproducts from the plants, and fish meal can be used as fertilizer for crops. Additionally, fish can eat poultry and pig manure, other animal foods, as well as table scraps making it a way to reduce waste as well as increase production. It is described as a “cost-effective way to use scarce resources,” and has even started to replace slash-and-burn agriculture. It also provides employment for many non-standard groups, and the article covers experiments conducted in which 1200 households headed by women and orphans were trained in aquaculture methods, which resulted in a 100% increase in income for those households. Due to the variety of tasks and low involvement, any member of a household can participate including those with disabilities, the elderly, and the young (among others). This article also covers the challenges and downsides of shifting to aquaculture. At the lowest level, biopiracy, harmful fishing practices, hygiene standards, theft, management, and data-recording are all potential barriers to entry and common obstacles. Additionally, information transfer is crucial but it is difficult to achieve, necessitating involvement of the private sector as well as the government as skills and training are necessary for success. However, initial research shows that even members in the most rural areas are willing and eager to implement technology in order to overcome these barriers, especially since integrating crops and aquaculture can improve irrigation and crop yield. All in all, this article provides a comprehensive look at the pros and cons of aquaculture as well as where further research is required.

Kipkemboi, J., Van Dam, A. A., Ikiara, M. M., & Denny, P. (2007). Integration of Smallholder Wetland Aquaculture-Agriculture Systems (Fingerponds) into Riparian Farming Systems on the Shores of Lake Victoria, Kenya: Socio-Economics and Livelihoods. The Geographical Journal, 173(3), 257–272. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30135836

This article analyzed the potential of finger ponds in wetland biomes for sustainable farming systems and improving food security. The main idea behind finger ponds is to dig long trenches alongside agricultural crops and use the dirt from those trenches to create raised beds between them. These trenches then fill naturally with ground and rainwater, and during flooding events, native fish can be trapped within the ponds and raised for food. According to the article, food insecurity is caused by a feedback loop of environmental degradation and poverty. When people are more desperate or do not have other options, they turn to unsustainable practices such as overfishing Lake Victoria, relying on invasive species, or removing nearby forest to create more farmable land. As environmental sustainability is the best way to maintain economic stability and general well-being over the long run, this cycle of survival will become more and more difficult as time goes on. Especially in the areas surrounding Lake Victoria, rainfall is erratic and sparse, meaning that non-traditional agriculture is a necessity to provide food year round. This study tracked factors such as gross income, fixed costs, variable costs, total costs, gross margin, net income, and returns to household labor but found low explanatory power between these variables and the use of finger ponds but did find a 90% rate of dependence on wetland ecosystems as well as increased efficiency of resource use for individuals using finger ponds. Additionally, finger ponds seemed to provide more stability for women. While the study found a high cost of start up as well as the need for some level of education in order for finger ponds to be successful, the general conclusion was that finger ponds could be an excellent way to utilize natural resources and provide local communities with job and food stability without depleting the environment around them or introducing invasive species.

Kloas, W., Groß, R., Baganz, D., Graupner, J., Monsees, H., Schmidt, U., Staaks, G., Suhl, J., Tschirner, M., Wittstock, B., Wuertz, S., Zikova, A., & Rennert, B. (2015). A new concept for aquaponic systems to improve sustainability, increase productivity, and reduce environmental impacts. Aquaculture Environment Interactions, 7(2), 179–192. https://www.jstor.org/stable/24864897

This paper proposes a new, more sustainable way to implement agriculture and aquaculture. The main critique is that aquaponics are still not as efficient as they have the potential to be in terms of both water and production. The ideal range for the bacteria that aid in the process is between 7-9, while most plants prefer something between 5.8-6.2. This gap decreases efficiency, as does natural water evaporation. The method proposed in this article suggests two one-way valves that then allow closer regulation of nutrients to the plants and pH level for the bacteria. The setup in this experiment was powered using photovoltaic cells, and cooling traps were used to return evaporation to the system. Additionally, this study was conducted in a traditional greenhouse using tilapia and tomato plants. Water, food, and energy are all linked for food production as well as biodiversity, meaning that coming up with alternative systems is crucial. While the study does initially have promising results, there are many things to improve upon. The first is that this system is education intensive and requires a good understanding of how the system works as a whole. Secondly, it is quite delicate and needs to be balanced and recorded consistently throughout the production process. During this experiment, there was a power outage for example that ended up killing a portion of the tilapia while stressing others. In populations near lakes containing endangered species such as Lake Tanganyika and Lake Victoria, power is often hard to come by and harder to keep, meaning that anything that requires consistent electricity is potentially a problem. However, I think that this system has potential in more urban environments for those that still wish to participate in the conservation effort, maybe more for ornamental purposes rather than consumption purposes of the fish though both would work.

Macharia, J. (2019). Sustainable Development in Kenya. Horizons: Journal of International Relations and Sustainable Development, 13, 172–183. https://www.jstor.org/stable/48573777

This article concerns the sustainable development of Kenya. Currently, Kenya has four main goals for sustainable development: ending poverty, reducing inequality, improving healthcare, protecting the environment, and promoting peace and justice. Global warming has caused an increase in catastrophic weather events as well as imposing a new set of constraints on developing nations, making it so that Kenya has turned to non-traditional methods of development. Currently, agriculture makes up 25% of the Kenyan economy, and the government has identified a strong need for affordable housing, employment, and healthcare. Fish and agro-processing are predicted to be an important part of economic development. Combined with the need for sustainability, this means that Kenya is a strong candidate for something like conservation aquaponics. Additionally, the government is attempting to achieve food security in the population by bringing land into agricultural use through irrigation and technology, especially for crops such as corn, potato, rice, cotton, and aquaculture. The government also plans to support small scale farmers by giving better access to markets and to use programs to boost crop yields and quality. Additionally, most of the energy is already being diverted from oils to geothermal, wind, and solar energy. This combined with commercialized feed and government subsidies makes an attractive location for local and international investors, as well as an excellent model for sustainable practices within a country both in legislation and in practice. Overall, this article is very thorough in its analysis of the current situation in Kenya in terms of sustainable development as well as the current shortcomings and places for improvement within the country. While it is clear about the obstacles, it uses strong empirical evidence to support an optimistic future.

Analysis and Reflection on the Process

I learned that I work efficiently and know how to budget my time to give myself adequate space to review, edit, and account for any unexpected circumstances. In terms of my approach to research, I believe that my initial selection of sources could have been better. Due to these sources, I now know what I need to focus on and what keywords to use to find relevant information more efficiently.


Looking Ahead

From the analysis of the sources, we can draw several preliminary conclusions about the importance of conservation aquatics, as well as the research currently surrounding the field of aquaculture as a means to achieve social stability and sustainability. It is clear that aquaculture plays a huge role in terms of nutrition and livelihood, and is therefore something that should be pursued. The social benefits - increasing income, providing job stability, encouraging equality, and increasing food security - are all other reasons for which aquaculture is important. However, the current research falls into two categories, both falling short of the ultimate goal. The first is aquaculture-specific research which seeks to explain how traditional aquaculture is useful and how it has been implemented in the past. The second category is made of tests that seek to explain sustainability with new technologies. There is no middle ground of using resources and methods that already exist while looking at ways to improve several aspects at once. One of the main problems for example is the introduction of non-native species that quickly turn into invasive species such as the Nile Tilapia. Using native fish was only proposed in one article, but needs to be explored further. Additionally, it would be crucial to analyze the current attitudes and major obstacles preventing the development of conservation aquaponics. According to preliminary research, it seems that there is not enough education surrounding proper practices and that many struggling with food insecurity do not have the time nor the access to these resources. Thus, an upstream collaboration with government groups would be necessary to implement long-term sustainable systems. Overall, there is a clear need and space for conservation aquaponics in Kenya, but more research concerning the specific social and environmental constraints of each community need to be analyzed for an effective solution to be implemented. This could definitely be part of a Capstone project. Kenya on its own would make an excellent scope, however the focus of the project in general would probably be better as defending the need for conservation aquaponics and proposing a general plan of action to implement this program into different communities.


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