Cairo's aquaponic farm leading the way for organics

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(7 Jan 2019) LEADIN:
An aquaponics farm in Egypt is leading the way in the country’s organic food production business.  
Claiming to be the first commercial enterprise of its kind in Egypt, Bustan is supplying fresh farm produce and fish to those turning organic in Cairo.
STORYLINE:
The greenhouse is the perfect place to grow the delicate salads much in demand in most Egyptian meals.
Here they are protected from the elements and are grown using aquaponic farming methods.
Aquaponics is a way of combining agriculture with aquaculture, which is the growing of fish and other aquatic animals together.
In this symbiotic relationship, the fish fertilise the plants and in return, the vegetables clean the water which goes back to the fish.
The farm which claims to have pioneered this method in Egypt is Bustan Aquaponics.
It was established in 2011.
Situated slightly away from the hustle and bustle of Cairo city, it covers approximately 3,000 square metres of land. Within its grounds is also an eight acre olive orchard.
The owner Faris Farrag, has a background in economics and turned to farming after a career in banking.
He says Egypt’s farming sector faces many problems and aquaponics could offer solution to some of them.
“When I looked at the problems that we face agriculturally here in Egypt I realised there are three major issues behind it. Most importantly it’s food security, the amount of land available for agriculture and water issues. So immediately I started some research about advanced agriculture,” he says.
On the one hand aquaponics might sound simple and easy but it is much harder than it looks, says Farrag.
He explains that it is important to get the design and layout correct from the start. But it is also equally important to keep on top of maintenance.
The controlled climate of the greenhouse, kept cool using fans during summer months, allows the farm to grow green leafy plants which wilt in hot days outside.
Bustan Aquaponic claims to be the largest producer of baby leaf salad in Egypt.
All in all, according to Farrag, the farm produces 65-70 tonnes of vegetables per year and 25 tonnes of fish.
Its aim is to provide pesticide-free tilapia fish and aquaponic grown vegetables.
Aquaponic farms cost a lot to set up.
This means that what is produced will be sold at a high price.
Therefore, this farm usually delivers to the organic eating elites of Cairo.
Farrag explains that it is better to build on deserted land than to ruin an agricultural area.
While the setup cost of an aquaponic farm is expensive, the operational cost is much less as no fertilisers are used and it needs 90 percent less water than traditional farming.
“This system can be built anywhere. As you can see the plants are planted in water tanks and the fish are also in fibre glass tanks,” explains Farrag.
Nearly all the water in the farm is recycled and the trees in the orchard also benefit.
Mahmoud Abdel Aziz is the agricultural engineer at the farm.
Explaining his routine, he says,”Every week we clean the fish filters and after we wash it we are left with a huge amount of water which is full of nitrogen and fertiliser, so we use it to water the outside crops, like these olive trees.”
The farm’s organic methods also mean it doesn’t use harsh pesticides to protect its vegetables, but introduces a specific bacteria to fight infestations of pests.
Workers at Bustan get to work early.

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