The St Andrews Prize for the Environment

University of St Andrews


2017 Finalist

The Pump, The Fish and The Garden – Aquaponics

The Pump, The Fish and The Garden – Aquaponics

Aquaponics: Innovative integration of vegetable and fish production to provide food, nutrition and livelihood for the poor. 

Community Hopes Alternatives Inc. (CHAI), working in collaboration with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the Municipal Government of Pagbilao (MGP), uses aquaponics in an innovative way to provide food and nutrition to poor communities in the Philippines. 

The Aquaponics system allows the production of vegetables from a system which traditionally produces only fish. It is a system of aquaculture where waste produced by farmed fish or other aquatic creatures supplies the nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, which in turn purify the water. CHAI’s system utilizes aquaponics to integrate hydroponic vegetable production with the closed fish production system. Their innovative modification of the traditional hydroponic process means that aquaponics pumps can be introduced at a household level, where resources and space are limited. 

CHAI’s aim is to introduce a ‘3 for all scheme’ or 3 units per household. Harvests from the first unit are for household food to address nutrition problems, harvest from the second is for sale for household income, and the remaining unit is also for sale but the net income will be collected by the project and used to recover costs and reach more beneficiaries. 

Tested in a small village in the Philippines, one basic aquaponics set produced 80-100kg of fish and 100-150kg of vegetables per year. After a year of implementation, the weight of previously malnourished children increased to a normal weight for their age. Beyond significant health benefits, the system also provides income to families through the selling of excess fish and vegetables produced. Malnutrition is a common problem in poor households, both rural and urban. In the Philippines alone, 33.4% of Filipino children under the age of 5 have stunted growth, and 21.5% are underweight. 

The pumps are environmentally friendly and run on batteries charged by solar panels to ensure a continuous supply of power, without the need for electricity. As well as the benefit to the environment, this also means that the pumps can be used in remote areas, which cannot be reached by electricity line. With the ability to switch functions, the pump can recycle and filter water before switching to an aerator function for the fish tank when the need arises. 

Beyond the innovative system, strategic thinking by the project led to a scheduling system where vegetables and fish are produced in a staggered manner to ensure availability of food for most days of the year. The system also saves water by efficiently using the same water for the fish and the vegetable production, as well as producing fish without replacing the water. Using local resources such as duck weeds, water cabbages and azolla as fish feeds, and vermicompost tea (Vermitea) as organic fertiliser, these readily available materials make production cheaper, safer and environmentally friendly.

CHAI aims to install more aquaponics systems to empower more families to sustainably produce their own balanced food. Beyond households, their goals include installing the system in community centres and public schools to reach even more people. Training local artisans from different provinces is essential to their growth plan, teaching people from groups or organisations working with disadvantaged communities how to manufacture and distribute the systems. The project team’s overarching aim is to alleviate the plight of the poorest households with a financially self-sustaining and self-replicating model. With support, the project will be able to distribute aquaponics systems to thousands of families in the provinces of Southern Luzon, Philippines.

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