Both aquaponic and hydroponic farming methods on the rise in Egypt. The country's desert lands make water scarce, and water sources are becoming polluted or high in salts, and new approaches to farming are badly needed.
A hydroponic system can be set up on any horizontal surface with energy available to run it. Plants grow in PH-balanced water with mineral nutrient solutions directly feeding them. The plant roots don't spend their energy searching the soil to extract nutrients, instead using that energy towards faster, upward growth. With soil-less farming, there's no land to spray with fertilizers and the amounts of water that the soil would soak up are no longer necessary, saving up to 90% compared to the water used for soil farming.
Adding fish to the hydroponic system makes it into an aquaponic one, mimicking a natural ecosystem. The fish living in water tanks produce waste that fertilizes the plants, and in turn the plants filter the water and produce oxygen sustaining the fish. Pests are much less frequent with the nonexistence of soil, and ladybugs and wasps are welcome guests in the ecosystem.
Egyptian Hydrofarms, Bustan Aquaponics and Agrimatic Farms are three companies that have spent time developing their respective systems and are at different stages in production. But all three believe in the efficiency of soil-less systems and hope to be feeding masses of people with healthy produce.
Amr Bassiouny and Adel El Shentenawy founded Egyptian Hydrofarms on 2,100 sq meters (half a feddan) along the Cairo-Alex Desert road in 2013. "With the hydroponic system, the yield is eight times more than that of traditional farming," says El Shentenawy.
So far they have been testing the market and with the positive response received towards their leafy greens, they are now upgrading to fully operate their land and will be expanding to vine crops by the second half of the year. Those interested to know more and to get a hold of the freshest produce are invited to visit the farm and pick for themselves. Otherwise the farms produce can also be purchased in all of Gourmet's branches, Sunny Market in Zamalek and Seoudi Supermaket in Sheikh Zayed. That's not all. If you are eating at the Four Seasons, Fairmont, or at Buffalo Burger, you'll also be tasting their products.
Bustan Aquaponics, set up by Farris Farrag over 7 acres (2,8328 sq meters) in Sheikh Zayed has four fish tanks connected to hydroponic beds. "Instead of soaking the plant's roots in a nutrient solution, the fish tanks provide 90% of the nutrients plants need to grow," Farrag told the Middle East Institute. He plans to add three more aquaponic units to the farm, which according to Ground-Up project, produces five to seven tons of Tilapia fish per year and tens of thousands of lettuce heads. Their variety of lettuce, fish and vine crops can be found in Gourmet, Sunny Market in Zamalek, Offah and Ma7ali in Maadi. They also offer free-range eggs and extra virgin olive oil from their farm.
Another aquaponic system, Agrimatic Farms expect to see their produce supermarkets within a month. Founded by a group of six, after working for a year and a half to develop their module over one feddan, (4100 sq meters) the company offers a profit-sharing model to interested partners. Their moderl offers to can set up the system and operate it, looking to spread the implementation of the method. Their farm in Madinet El Sadat to date offers different kinds of lettuce, mint, and basil, and will work to stabilize each new crop before adding it to the market. Their Tilapia will be sold in the local markets close to the farm. Mostafa Hassanein, one of the founders, says: "What we're after is efficiency and an aquaponic system creates just that: the water is reused and it being a closed ecosystem, nothing is thrown away."