Aquaponics in Global Health and Development
For those interested in global health and development, such as myself, it is imperative to examine the potential of ecological and sustainable tools to mitigate both global health disparities and the factors that precipitate them. In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than 1 in 4 people remain undernourished (“Africa Hunger Facts,” 2016), due in part to poverty, environmental factors such as climate change, low agricultural productivity, and the resulting malnutrition and disease. It’s no surprise, then, that a simple glance at a map of estimated mortality rates from tuberculosis reveals a conspicuous patterning of Sub-Saharan Africa as an area of significantly higher prevalence when compared to much of the rest of the world (World Health Organization, 2014).
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, widely regarded as the preeminent school of its kind, runs an urban teaching farm that works to educate the public on a number of sustainable food production methods, including aquaponics (Blom, 2017). The school’s Center for a Livable Future conducted a study in 2014 that revealed just how popular the field of aquaponics really is. Though many of their respondents had less than five years of experience working with aquaponics systems, they had successfully constructed systems in a variety of locations around their communities, including in greenhouses, hoop houses, buildings, and even on rooftops, and were growing tilapia and a number of leafy green vegetables (Wood-Wright & Desmon, 2014). In areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa, where agricultural yield is often poor, drought is rife, and resources are sparse, implementation of properly-researched sustainable food technology could serve as an antidote.
Aquaponics is environmentally-friendly, harnesses the premier attributes of aquaculture and hydroponics while forgoing the need for chemical fertilizers, and is 95% more efficient than traditional agricultural methods. In that vein, it’s not difficult to envision a future in which aquaponics plays a role in addressing malnourishment and other global health scourges in areas where resources are scarce. In fact, other nations are beginning to pick up on the importance of this critical tool for improving food sustainability. In 2012, the city of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates constructed the world’s largest aquaponics system with tanks storing up to 400,000 liters or nearly 106,000 gallons of water and the capability to produce over 52 tons of food, including tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, and peppers, per year (Malek, 2012). With further research and work on reducing the costs of constructing aquaponics systems while increasing their efficiency, as MAqua is doing, the ability for aquaponics technology to alleviate the underlying factors behind global health disparities will be tremendous.
Coming to MAqua’s role in furthering the field of aquaponics, we have had tremendous success over the past year on both the technology/ecology side as well as the business side, which I am currently leading. On the business side this past year, we received in excess of $7000 in grant support, including the esteemed Dow Distinguished Award for Interdisciplinary Sustainability, established a partnership with a graduate student organization, and competed in the China Business Challenge, a business competition in which we were the sole undergraduate team to reach the final round. On the community outreach side, we assisted with cleanup at an urban farm in Detroit as a part of the annual Detroit Partnership Day of Service for the second year in a row, held two successful fundraising nights at local restaurants, and were selected for the U of M Bicentennial Showcase to be held later this year. In the near future, we hope to both conduct business-side research through a large-scale system that we recently acquired and to get involved with addressing the issues of urban blight and food deserts through partnerships with community organizations in Detroit. Our success both within our business team and as a whole is a testament to the immense amount of dedication and the support that we have for each other, which I believe will allow us to further our goal of creating a more sustainable and healthy world through aquaponics.
Africa Hunger Facts, Africa Poverty Facts. (2016, August 16). Retrieved June 22, 2017, from
Blom, J. (2017, June 13). Food System Lab @ Cylburn. Retrieved June 22, 2017, from
Malek, C. (2012, September 22). UAE aquaponics project hailed as a success. Retrieved June 22, 2017,
World Health Organization. (2014). Estimated TB mortality rates excluding TB deaths among
HIV-positive people, 2013 [Digital image]. Retrieved June 22, 2017, from http://gamapserver.who.int/mapLibrary/Files/Maps/Global_TB_MortalityRates_HIVpositive_2013.png
Wood-Wright, N., & Desmon, S. (2014, September 09). Gardeners and Farmers are Flocking to New
Approach: Raising Fish and Plants Together. Retrieved June 22, 2017, from http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-a-livable-future/news-room/News-Releases/2014/Gardeners-Farmers-Flocking-New-Approach-Raising-Fish-Plants-Together.html