In the soil near a small village at the south end of India, there are microscopic colonies tirelessly working. These include bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, earthworms and arthropods, collectively known as soil microbes. They thrive on the fish excreta in the soil, breaking them down into nutrients which, in turn, the plants thrive on. This ecosystem – involving fish, plants and microbes – was designed with specific purposes in mind. It is all happening in the state of Kerala in India (Nanniode in Palakkad district) where The Venus Project has begun a new demonstration project.
When the word “agriculture” is mentioned, most people have images of tractors, pesticides, fertilizers, and toiling away on big fields all day long. We have a lot of work to do on changing perceptions. The activity that humanity spends most energy on is growing food, and then preparing it for eating. And yet, half of what is grown goes to waste. Agriculture contributes the most to climate change and to the diminishment of wildlife and its available space to live.
It seems clear that agriculture would be a major focus for anyone interested in making systemic change in the world. But this being an initiative of The Venus Project which has a holistic view of society, we will not limit our focus only to agriculture. We have about 550 m2 (5920 ft2) to play with, plus another 192 m2 (2066 ft2) for fruiting trees, and there is a lot that can be done with this space. Here are some of our plans:
- Feed about 130 people (about 30 families) with clean, fresh and highly nutritious fish, vegetables and fruits year-round.
- Provide the food locally through weekly packages of fish and vegetables that the families subscribe to receive. This creates a lower food price for them and predictability for us. Such a model is called community-supported agriculture.
- Dedicate 10% of the area to research and development. There are lots and lots of experiments to do and improvements to be made.
- Demonstrate with data and publications how a highly productive, healthy and ecologically restorative food system can work.
- Expand beyond food and agriculture.
- And more.
Since we are taking over an abandoned infrastructure, our first task was to clean up the land. Check out the cleanup video story below:
When operation begins in the coming weeks, the water will make 8 cycles every day – taking the fish excreta from the bottom of the fish tanks and bringing them at the top end of the plant beds, where they begin to gradually flow down back to the fish tanks. As the excreta travel down, they go through the plant roots where the soil microbes filter them. Clean water comes out. Fish get cleaned water, while microbes and plants get nutrients. This continuous loop makes it so that nutrients and water remain in the system. Having the water move in a loop also makes it easy to automate the process (we use pumps and a sequential timer for this), which means no time and no labor are spent on irrigation. Compared to traditional agriculture, this system uses 98% less water. It uses no pesticides, no fungicides, no antibiotics, actually no chemical inputs at all, yet it far surpasses the productivity levels of chemically-intensive agriculture. We call this method an Integrated Aquaponics System (#TVPIAS). It is an actively evolving system.
The word “integrated” has special importance. Not only is this system integrating some prominent practices (regenerative agriculture, aquaculture, permaculture, hydroponics, natural farming) into a single whole, it also readily allows for integrating any other good agricultural practice. Using the Integrated Aquaponics System methods, one can grow not only greens but also all kinds of fish, vegetables and fruits. It is beyond organic and is soil-based, not soil-less.
We wish to hear from scientists and practitioners who are supporting any worthwhile food and agriculture practices – whether it is regarding soil, microbiology, molecular biology, ecology, composting, cooking, food preservation, nutrition (aquatic, botanical and human), learning in plants and animals, mycology, phycology, agroforestry, water conservation, indigenous knowledge, knowledge transfer and assimilation, climate change, integrated pest management, controlled environmental engineering and management, marketing and distribution of perishable commodities, post-harvest technologies, food safety regulation, or any other aspect. We have the playground, the personnel and the means to experiment with new (or old) and interesting ideas. All knowledge is limited, and one of our larger goals with this initiative is to integrate knowledge from all sorts of fields into a single system of knowledge. If any of this interests you, please reach out to us through the form on this page.
This project is not just for the specialists and experts, however. We wish to engage and involve all of you, and your participation will be crucial. To start with, we are working on setting up a video livestream from the land, so you can always watch what is happening and become more closely familiar.
Getting to this point has not been easy. It took 6 months from initial serious planning to beginning the project. There were many challenges, and we expect many more. We deeply thank everyone who contributed to making this happen.
Our next major milestones are to re-build the infrastructure, plant the seeds and add the fish, and begin operation.
We welcome your feedback and responses (and any ideas you might have) in the comments section below. And you can expect more updates from us. Make sure you are subscribed to our newsletter to get news.
Post written by:
Vijayakumar Narayanan (VKN)
VKN runs a private limited company (named startup of the year) in India backed by over 9 years of hands-on experience as an early adopter of Integrated Aquaponics System (IAS) methods. His focus areas include but are not limited to commercial farming, training, consulting and/or franchising IAS technology. For the last couple of years, he has been working with various teams in planning and designing the agricultural belt of an entire social complex of The Venus Project. His work on that included scalable IAS solutions for the execution of various agricultural methods and practices of cultivating the soil, producing crops and raising livestock and in varying degrees the preparation and marketing of the resulting products. Those efforts led to this current #TVPIAS project and VKN is now in charge of its implementation.
Borislav’s background includes IT engineering, teaching and neuroscience. He is interested in both design for radical effectiveness and a wider systems perspective across space and time. His work with The Venus Project over the years has been in diverse roles, often supporting the creation or automation of procedures and workflows in various teams. He has created a couple of web platforms which were inspired from integrating insights from disparate areas. For this project, one main purpose for him will be to support the integration of knowledge from a variety of fields into a single whole, out of which completely new insights can be born, as well as to support the spreading of this knowledge to people around the world.
How are you feeding the fish
Fish are fed a commercial diet with a minimum analysis of 32% crude protein, 5 crude fat and 5.5% crude fiber. The feed we use is not fortified with vitamins or trace elements. The fish also graze algae which grew in the water and on the fish culture tank sides. We also feed on-farm inputs such as azolla, moringa leaves, colocasia leaves, water hyacinth leaves, coconut oil cakes as supplementary feed. Black soldier fly larvae and earthworm as protein-rich feed are undergoing commercial yield trials along with integration of small livestocks (goats/rabbits) and poultry (chicken/ducks).
I still see oil-based products being used in this agricultural project. Is there no plan to look for alternatives to industrially manufactured materials?
Minimum apparatus such as moderate-tech rain/sun protected structure, geomembrane liners, pumps, plumbing and forced aeration are used in this project. Of course, there are alternatives to industrially manufactured materials. One could forsake electric for pumping altogether if you’re prepared for manual labor (muscle power, on a tight schedule) in a small scale lo-tech system that move water with a calabash (bucket).
Eventually parasites and plant infections come and you will have to use pesticides and fungicides (as other farmers do) and that will break the loop, bcs the water will be unusable for fish anymore.
Compared to conventional agriculture, the Integrated Aquaponics System uses 98% less water. The average number of times each liter of water is recirculated and reused for fish and fruit production ranged from 106 to 334 (by crop, season and ratio). The constantly renewed water is reused again until it is lost by either evaporation or transpiration. Another visible water loss is because of plant and fish growth. So the water remains clean without parasites or plant infectants. Use of some materials is strictly prohibited, such as synthetic pesticides and herbicides, as they will act as poison and will kill all the fish. We instead use aggressive Integrated Pest Management techniques to keep the pests and disease pressures in control.
Learning is a lifetime process and effort. We never stop growing in our understanding. You are welcome to join us in this exciting journey together.
I have found the dry season the Aquaponics system does very well. The rainy season not as well. More fungus and insects but there are several organic fish friendly options. Have had best luck with spinach, lettuce and leafy greens. Tomato and chile I used a combination of compost soil mix with fish water added.
Another option is “Humanure Handbook” we must work to close that loop also, is important to utilize that waste safely and eliminate need for chemical fertilizer inputs.
If open areas of the soil are covered with hay or mulch, then the moisture retention will increase several times. The standard of living inside the soil will also increase. Still the correct shape of the beds, curves, like a spiral or curved. And plant a lot of crops. One culture helps another culture. Permaculture. Symbiosis. You are doing the right job. Thanks to.
We are using the same process for our emergency housing project, which has aquaponic production yards. In addition, the houses are built with Biocemento, a material that uses the waste from crops, more precisely corn and soybean husks, which are mixed with cement. This creates a circular economy between the aquaponic production yards and the construction of sustainable housing. The sustainable housing project with aquaponic food production yards is called Holo Home.
Good to hear about your work. Yes, expanding to and integrating housing is very much a part of our interests as well.
Hi, All. Happy New Years. Congrats Kerala,India. This is a Nice Present for the Year 2022. Thanks also Respect to Roxanne &The Venus Project Team. How soo EXCITING Just reading the comments ere, is refreshing & educational, learning something new, that’s old & broaden beyond the horizon. Just Fascinating & Marvellous . Extensionality
Thanks for your encouragement. :)
We want basic know how about aquaponics. And also want to start it as PoC before scaling it up for commercial purposes.
Pl mention how can your organization help us and support.
We would very much like to get to a point where we help others in creating such systems around the world. We are not there yet, let’s work towards that. Follow our news and progress updates and let’s see where it takes us and how fast.
I’m excited to see where this goes.
As a Regenerative Farmer focused on reconnection with soil as a cultural imperative, I have a lot of desire to share knowledge and understanding about agriculture with the Venus project.
I see a lot of future holes in the aquaponics systems and believe they need improvement.
As I was on your website I see that to fill out the form for input there isn’t much available room for the input of those with experience, yet not formal education. This creates a barrier for important information sharing. Agriculture has traditionally been held by observational wisdom in indigenous cultures. Creating a pathway to include these voices will only serve science to better understand human social behavior.
I think this lack of engagement with small scale farmers, including but not limited to: no-till practitioners, community farmers, Regenerative farmers, and indigenous farmers, etc. .
. is a major issue that prevents the Venus project from gaining household recognition.
What can be done?
Hi Chrystal, thank you very much for opening up this important topic. We are interested in all knowledge, especially people who deeply understand things and can create highly functional and ecological systems – that’s what matters, not whether the person has any formal education. We would like to include the knowledge stewards you mentioned. We have room on our form in the About You field for people to share anything they want regarding themselves and their experience. I guess, since you wrote this feedback, you thought this was not sufficient or adequate. Let’s connect and see how we can improve our form and process so that we welcome all knowledge indeed.
“I see a lot of future holes in the aquaponics systems and believe they need improvement.” Can you elaborate on this? I hope you have gone over the fifth paragraph of the above article on integration. Thanks.
Just a thought: I know in Cuba this would be problematic because it would increase the mosquito population… and here in Cuba the government tries their best to prevent mosquito population surges due to mosquito-linked illnesses ..
On the contrary, we have observed mosquito numbers diminished wherever we had Integrated Aquaponics System projects. At a few locations, mosquitoes completely disappeared over time. One reason could be that every female mosquito in the neighborhood could sense the nutrient-rich fish water and comes to lay her eggs over it. Each egg hatches into a larvae which is then quickly consumed by omnivorous fish in fish culture tanks before it can ever develop sufficiently to become an adult mosquito. Need scientific studies and validation of this finding.
To add, there are some ornamental fish one could also use in IAS fish culture tanks that feed on mosquitos such as mosquito fish (Gambusia affinis), neon tetras, etc.