Commercial aquaponics has rooted itself in the growing sustainable food movement in the west. Production numbers are increasing, improvements are made on organic pest management and nutrient control is being optimized. Despite these positive developments, profitability still is an issue for many western growers, but not so in emerging urban markets of Asia and Africa. Over the last years, aquaponics has gained popularity among entrepreneurs in Asia and Africa due to:
- Changing weather patterns & degraded soils
- A growing demand for fresh vegetables (on urban markets especially)
- Soaring land prices in urban areas
- Limited fresh water resources.
In these regions, aquaponics is often initiated as a mitigation strategy against changing weather patterns that have disrupted operations of conventional farmers. Additionally, distrust towards conventional pest and nutrient management practices have created a demand for fresh vegetables with guaranteed quality. Recent media reports about farmers in Nairobi (Kenya), spraying their vegetables only days before bringing them to the market, have raised health concerns among many urban consumers. These concerns are shared by consumers worldwide, leading to rising demands for fresh high-quality vegetables. Aquaponics is singled out as the solution for these markets, due to soaring land prices and limited water availability, conventional farming is almost impossible in most urban regions.
Is Aquaponics the solution? Aquaponics offers amazing opportunities, but the investments required need to be taken seriously as well. During our travels at TGS, we’ve have met many entrepreneurs that underestimated the investments and the challenges of developing a niche market, some are even selling their vegetables at a loss on the open markets. We’ve met many people with great visons, but failing to be profitable due to the single mistake that they didn’t develop a proper business case in advance. In their enthusiasm, they got tangled up in all the technicalities of starting aquaponics, that they forgot to identify who their clients are and how to connect with them. Therefore I would like to conclude with the advice to perform a proper marketing research that assesses the opportunity of starting aquaponics while also looking at other sustainable farming alternatives.
Two points of attention:
- Aquaponics systems need to be tailored to the local conditions. Be cautious to copy a design of youtube without looking at investment costs and climatic conditions especially.
- Work out a proper business case and define your niche market. Make sure you can earn back your investment in due time and make sure you understand your competitors and target customers.