Thursday, November 1, 2012

Interview: Ken Konschel and Aquaponics in South Africa

Ken Konschel has for the past 15 years been active in the Aquaponics industry. He has traveled extensively in theUSA visiting Aquaponics and aquaculture projects, universities and hydroponic farms gathering new information and the latest techniques. In 2003 he won a gold medal from theInstituteofInventorsfor his efforts in designing an Aquaponics system.
Hi Ken, Thank you for taking the time out to answer some questions;
  1. How did you get involved in Aquaponics?
I have been interested in aquaculture for several years, prior to getting involved in aquaponics.  It was during this time of learning that the disturbing facts relating to overfishing and the depletion of wild marine stocks started emerging (see attached news article from The Independent of June 21- )
This emerging catastrophe got me looking for alternatives to marine sourced aquaculture feed.  Traditionally aquaculture consumes 5kg of marine fish to raise just 1 kg of farmed fish.  This is not sustainable. Aquaponics has successfully presented solutions to most, if not all the problems associated with freshwater aquaculture.
  1. So what is the difference between Aquaponics and Hydroponics?
Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics where in aquaponics fish waste is utilized to grow plants and vegetables instead of fertilizers which are used in hydroponics.  Aquaponics uses no fertilizers or chemicals, can be labeled organic and is totally environmentally friendly and leaves absolutely zero negative environmental impact.  People do not want to eat fertilizers and chemicals and more and more are choosing organic, chemical free food.
  1. Someone said to me the other day, they had “no idea Aquaponics was so big inSouth Africa?” Where do you thinkSouth Africais at in terms of the International Aquaponics Community?
Aquaponics is not big in South Africa.  South Africa does not even feature in terms of the international aquaponics community.  There is at present only ONE commercial aquaponics farmer in South Africa.
Government and funding institutions have no idea what aquaponics is.  They are only just beginning to appreciate conventional aquaculture.  South Africa produces only a minute percentage of global aquaculture products.
  1. Do you thinkSouth Africahas the potential to be a leading member of the Aquaponics Community and what advantages doesSouth Africahave over other countries to run a successful Aquaponics Project?
An aquaponics project is capital intensive and will require funding.  Government and financial institutions don’t seem to have a desire to fund this type of project.
Geographically South Africa has huge potential for aquaponics projects. SA could easily be the biggest aquaponics producer on the continent, but it will take money, passion and commitment.
  1. So there is still some uncertainty with the general public regarding Aquaponics. How can we change this uncertainty?
The general public has no knowledge whatsoever about aquaponics. It will take money, time, education, training and skills transfer to introduce aquaponics to the general public.  As soon as government starts appreciating the huge benefits and potential of aquaponics the sooner the general public can benefit. We are starting to see small DIY systems being introduced into the market, and perhaps that will give aquaponics the momentum it needs.
  1. I have read one or two articles saying that the world will need 50% more food to feed its population by 2030! What’s your take on that, and does Aquaponics have the potential to help ease the burden?
Yes, there are several factually correct articles on population growth and proposed food production figures.  Aquaponics most certainly can contribute to feeding the world in a sustainable and eco friendly manner.  However, it will have to be on a massive scale requiring large scale funding.
  1. So with any project, farming, fishing. They all have problems, what’s your greatest difficulty with Aquaponics? How do/did you fix it?
The main stumbling block with aquaponics is getting the required funding. Financial institutions have to be shown that aquaponic projects are profitable and therefore worthy of investment capital.
  1. Can you tell us a little more about your new Aquaponics Projects? What do you hope to achieve?
We are presently seeking investment funding to set up what will be the largest aquaponics project in Africa and possibly the world.  The design, business plan and financial projections are complete and available for scrutiny by potential investors/funders.  We are negotiating with certain African countries as to the final choice of where to build our project.
  1. What is your favorite plant and fish to grow in your Aquaponics setup? Any special requirements?
The fish species of choice is Tilapia Rendalli.  Its herbivorous nature makes it ideal for aquaponics where the fish actually grow their own food in the form of aquatic plants.  Large mouth bass have also successfully been introduced into the sustainability circle by taking care of the excess tilapia fingerlings.  A wide range of vegetable, fruits and herbs can be grown in an aquaponics system.  Plants may be grown in either gravel or hydroton (link- ) grow beds, eco-lagoons, in Styrofoam flood and ebb systems or in a conventional cropping scenario.

  1. Recently I have chatted to a few people about Aquaponics, and they would like to get involved. Can you let them in on any secrets on how to run a successful Aquaponics Project?
I would recommend to anyone interested in getting involved with aquaponics to purchase the manual Freshwater Aquaculture and Aquaponics Systems and  Principles”  ( link- ). Aside from having a good reference for daily use, having the passion for what you do, and the drive to make it successful is, as always extremely important.

 Thank you Ken, we appreciate the time you have taken to talk to us!
If anyone would like to ask any questions, please comment below, I will do my best to get them to Ken and have them answered.