In today’s episode, we welcome Faris Farrag of Bustan Aquaponics who is stirring up an aquaponics movement in Egypt. A former banker turned aquapreneur, Faris is pioneering a movement in aquaponics while hoping to see a rising movement in the rest of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. His interest in aquaculture and food has led him to enroll at Dr. James Rakocy’s course in the University of the Virgin Islands which further inspired him to stay in Egypt and break ground on the farm that he currently has today.
Listen in as Faris talks about the different produce they’re growing in the system, how the market has responded to their aquaponic system, and keeping up with the momentum. Faris also brings into our discussion the ins and outs of organic certifications as well as reclaiming the language by putting the responsibility on producers using chemical products. We delve into the biggest issue concerning re-circulating fish farms and how to deal with it using biofiltration systems.
Faris describes the organic food movement in Africa in terms of traceability, the current trends affected by water scarcity, and a look into their permaculture-integrated farming, net-zero waste through efficient reuse and recycling of everything in the system through an amazing deep irrigation network
We also talk about renewable energies, passive solar water heaters, and heat diffusion system as well as the solar desalination process and purification through mirroring. Faris gives a comprehensive description of their actual UVI-based aquaponics system while using 80-90% less water than more traditionally land-based agriculture as a water-based system in the desert.
More topics on sand as excellent base media and composting, the need for integrating technology into natural farming systems, genetic modification and localizing seeds, sustainable fishing and value-added products, and having an al fresco dinner at Faris’ pop-up restaurant which is just super cool!
Lastly, we talk about the marketing and the financial side of the business covering intellectual property design systems and online delivery service in Egypt. Really listen into some solid marketing and financial planning strategies and the importance of localizing the food movement amidst the challenges of logistics and bureaucracies.
Read Full Show Notes
51: Fostering a Sustainable Food & Aquaponics Movement in Egypt w/ Faris Farrag of Bustan Aquaponics
Here’s what you’ll learn from this episode:
- Check out how Faris stumbled upon aquaponics while in London
- Joining a course in the University of Virgin Islands with Dr. James Rakocy
- Find out what Faris considers as the two main constraints in Egypt
- How does aquaponics fit into these two constraints?
- Check out what they’re growing in their system during summer:
- Chili peppers
- Cherry tomatoes
- Baby leaf salads
- What are they growing for the winter:
- Whole-head lettuces (7 different varieties)
- Kales (3 kinds)
- Faris reveals how their market has responded to aquaponic produce
- Discover the things they did right to increase their market: Living by their core ethic
- What’s so great about farmers markets!
- Shifting the aquaponics movement in the grand scheme of things
- Let’s talk organic certifications!
- The need to put responsibility of labeling produce on the chemical growers
- Know more about the major issue of re-circulating fish farms
- Discover the repercussions of water scarcity
- Faris illustrates a more concrete example of permaculture-integrated farming: Check out how they’re feeding chicks and their deep irrigation network for the plants
- Faris talks about renewable energies and dealing with some challenges: A shout out to companies that offer efficient and low-cost heat exchange system!
- Listen in as Faris explains how solar desalination works through mirroring
- Collaborating with Wageningen University in Holland (top agri university in Europe)
- Faris illustrates their aquaponic system inspired by the modular and replicable UVI model – it’s amazing how less water is being used given a water-based system in the desert!
- Check out the numbers:
- 160,000 gallons of water a year = 11,000 pounds of fish a year per system
- Producing additional 300,000 pounds of greens
- Check out how sand is an excellent base media
- Going back to the basics and balanced farming systems
- Easy breeding as they key to sustainable fishing
- Check out their value-added products!
- Here’s a cool hangout place in Egypt: Faris’ monthly pop-up resto in the middle of the trees, with chefs, music, and al fresco dinner – everything coming out of the systems! – How awesome is that?
- Now let’s talk about their market, financials, and intellectual property designs
- Building local food movement and dealing with the challenges of distribution, logistics, and bureaucracies
- Faris gives out really great insights into setting your financials in place and how critical it is (price planning, market research, price point, etc)
“Begin with a lot of research and know what you’re doing. Build yourself a little backyard system to at least understand the mechanics and the biology and the chemistry of it.” – Faris Farrag
“Understand what the techniques is. If you’re already into it then try to partner with somebody that has know-how in order to shorten that distance between funding a project and beginning production and selling in the market. The shorter you can make that, the quicker that you’re beginning to have revenues.” – Faris Farrag
“Pick strategic partners, not just financial partners. Do your research well. Run your numbers. Run your financials over and over and over again. As much as you love it, make sure it makes sense before you do it.” – Faris Farrag
“You can grow anything in an aquaponics system whether it’s a fruit or a leafy green or whatnot. The system is incredibly versatile.” – Faris Farrag
“We used to grow a lot more things but we found that you need to concentrate on what grows best and what the market requires. You can’t just grow what you want if you can’t sell it.” – Faris Farrag
“This is as close to a natural system as you can get. People have responded and took a couple of years at the beginning. But people will respond to high quality, lovingly grown produce.” – Faris Farrag
“This is our core ethic is just produce really high-quality, tasty food.” – Faris Farrag
” What I’d like to see is more honest labeling from the other producers.” – Faris Farrag
“By no means is aquaponics or am I a believer in that aquaponics will solve the food problems of the world but if we can contribute 1 to 5% I will consider my job to be at least partially done.” – Faris Farrag
“We want natural food but we can’t just continue doing things the way we are.” – Faris Farrag
“We are using 80-90% less water than more traditionally land-based agriculture even though we’re a water based system in the desert.” – Faris Farrag
“The Nile just being the river of the birth of humankind basically has dried up and now the ancient Eden has become desert. And this is the story of humankind on this planet and that’s why we need to reverse that both through permaculture and land restoration techniques.” – Maribou Latour
“I’m all about technology but it just needs to be integrated intelligently into natural farming systems.” – Faris Farrag
Resources/links to websites:
Visit the Bustan Aquaponics site
Hang out with Bustan Aquaponics on Facebook
Take a look at the UVI Aquaponics model
Read more about the Sahara Forest Project which Faris mentioned
Wageningen University in Holland
Faris Farrag is the founder and owner of Bustan Aquaponics. Bustan Aquaponics is the first and only commercial aquaponics farm in Egypt. We grow the highest quality premium fresh tilapia fish, and fresh vegetables including varieties of lettuce , pok choi, baby spinach, Swiss chard, spring onions, watercress, arugula, sweet basil, purple kale, and many other seasonal vegetables.
Aquaponics is a truly innovative, environmentally friendly, and sustainable method of growing that uses absolutely no pesticides, insecticides, growth hormones, or any other harmful chemicals to produce some of the most aromatic, healthy, and delicious vegetables and fish on the market. The systems are extremely water and energy efficient and require no agricultural land.
Previously Faris worked with several startups in London and Boston. Primarily in the role of Finance Director for Britart.com, one of the first online original art galleries in the UK. Later as COO of over,under, an architecture and design firm based out of Boston, USA.
Prior to his work in startups, Faris worked in finance in New York (Morgan Stanley and National Bank of Kuwait) and London (National Bank of Kuwait) for 10 years.
Faris received his BA, Economics from University of Souther California, Los Angeles and MBA in a joint program between Warwick University, UK and Stockholm School of Economics.