A team of faculty and students from Northwestern College recently returned to Iowa after setting up a small "aquaponics" project in western Europe.
Dr. Abe Scheaffer, a biology professor at the Orange City college, says they used a 250 gallon water tank to house the self-sustaining system at a home in the developing nation of Moldova.
"In combination with growing fish, it also grows vegetables, so the water that the fish are grown in cycles through hydroponic plant beds that will clean the water," he says. "It’s a water conservation system as well as a food growth and production system."
The college bought enough fish, fish food and plants so about 100 carp can be harvested from the system in six months to help feed the family’s children and others in the community. Scheaffer says they’ll also be growing hydroponic tomatoes in the tank.
"We were looking to essentially produce enough fish for a family to have enough saleable product for some supplemental income," he says. "Their saleable product is much less than what we would expect to be a normal income but makes a significant impact in the income that they generate for their family."
Through four years of research and experiments, Northwestern College has created the kit combining aquaculture and hydroponics to help provide subsistence to people in developing nations. Schaeffer says they only built one such system in Moldova, but it’ll be the first of many.
"We were dealing with one family and our intention was that one family get this system up and running and functional and they would then be able to replicate it to other families once they understand all the different nuances about how it works," he says.
Moldova, located between Romania and Ukraine, is the poorest nation in Europe, with unemployment rates as high as 80 percent in some villages, and high rates of alcoholism and forced prostitution. Through the project, called "Teach a Man to Fish," Northwestern hopes to sell the inexpensive kits to relief agencies around the world to help locals raise fish and grow vegetables.