Mixing aquaponics and mission work

Posted by djaspersen on Tuesday, September 2, 2014 Under: Lutheran Health Alliance

KW Editor Note: Daniel Schwartz is a Kingdom Workers’ Lutheran Health Alliance (LHA) volunteer and consultant in food security.  Recently, Kingdom Workers supported Daniel to travel to a community in Far East Asia to learn about a unique program that reaches out to people with innovative nutrition and agriculture methods within a gospel-centered context.  Kingdom Workers uses individuals like Daniel to research and identify best practices and field-based evidence for improving health and wellbeing around opportunities to connect people with their Savior.
Daniel Schwartz will be presenting at the 2015 Christian Leadership Experience in January. Read More {HERE}

Lessons in Aquaponics (by Daniel Schwartz)

During an urban agriculture seminar in Milwaukee this past January I learned of a Christian mission school in Asia which had implemented an aquaponics project as part of a community outreach initiative. Aquaponics is a food production system which grows fish and vegetables in a symbiotic environment. The system can be implemented in mission settings as a way to provide nutrient rich fish and vegetables to low-income communities. Intrigued and already having plans to visit Far East Asia during the summer, I decided to make a side trip to see the school.

Upon arrival I found a large-scale aquaponics project which was producing no vegetables and in serious disrepair. Consequently, I spent the majority of my visit brainstorming solutions for the aquaponics system with local staff members. Below are a couple of major takeaways from my time in Asia.

Lesson 1) Proper investment with the help of knowledgeable local partners: The school initially committed $8,000 to buy materials for the construction of the system. Unfamiliar with the local markets, the American project leader was excited that he was able to purchase materials for only $4,000. Just eight months after completion, the crumbling vegetable beds will need complete overhaul.

Lesson 2) Proper time commitment to train local partners: An aquaponics system is a complex ecosystem and requires knowledge in fish farming, water chemistry, and plant biology in order to operate successfully. There is no cookie-cutter design for an aquaponics system, and every location exhibits variations of water quality, climate and pests. In this case, the project leader had returned to America after finishing construction and planting the first crops. The crops never came up, and the local staff members had not been trained to problem solve. In eight months, they had only produced a few pounds of vegetables.

Lesson 3) The value of long-term commitment: This particular school has been in operation for 12 years and the American missionaries have been present for over 20 years. The short-term failure of this aquaponics project has not damaged the long-term relationship between the missionaries and the local Christians. Over a twenty year period, they have learned to depend on each other and on Christ as their foundation.

The lessons I learned in Asia this summer were valuable confirmation of what I had learned during my aquaponics training in Milwaukee. With proper investment, aquaponics can be a valuable tool to provide nutrient-rich food to malnourished communities. Used in a mission setting, it provides another opportunity for God’s family to reach out to those hungry for both physical and spiritual nourishment.

In : Lutheran Health Alliance 

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