Sowing seeds of wellness via aquaponics

The vegetables are nutritious, healthy and safe for consumption because no chemical fertilisers are used


Murugan (left) says ever since he went into aquaponics, he and his wife (right), as well as their 4 children have grown closer as they help him in the garden

WHEN K Murugan started dabbling in aquaponics after quitting his job as an excavator operator eight years ago, he did not expect his hobby to develop into a full-time agricultural venture for him. Neither did he expect to be cured of diabetes.

Neem was among the plants he grew and its leaves are said to have the ability to reduce blood sugar levels. Murugan, 50, said he made his own herbal drink out of the bitter neem leaves which he consumed daily and, after incorporating a healthier lifestyle, his diabetes disappeared.

Meanwhile, his aquaponic venture, which he started in 2014, has blossomed too. The corner garden of his house in Skudai, Johor Baru, is fully fitted with an aquaponic system consisting of fish tanks and rows of PVC pipes to which small plant pots are attached.

For someone who learned the ins and outs of aquaponics from YouTube videos and websites, this father-of-four has become an expert in aquaponics now and he is the go-to person for those who wish to cultivate plants using this completely organic and eco-friendly technique.

In fact, he has also been roped in by FAMA (Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority) Johor to teach farmers the aquaponic cultivation system.

Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture (growing fish and other aquatic animals) and hydroponics (growing plants on water, sand and gravel without the use of soil).

The basic premise of aquaponics is that the waste materials produced by the fish — which are high in nitrates — feed the plants, and the plants clean the water for the fish in continuous cycles.

A pump is used to channel the water from the fish tank or pond to the grow bed or plant pots where the plants are growing. The plants draw nitrogen from the water, which both feeds the plants and cleans the water, making it safe to return to the fish tank.

Easy to Learn

Lettuce, betel leaves, coriander and chillies cultivated through aquaponics have a high market value

Murugan’s aquaponic garden produces a range of vegetables such as sawi, lettuce, Vietnamese coriander or daun kesum, betel leaves, red chillies and Brazilian spinach that are marketed under his Alora Eco Green Products label. He also produces organic fertilisers for sale.

“It is easy to pick up aquaponics…it took just two years for me to learn from YouTube videos and the relevant websites, and now, I’m able to produce enough vegetables to generate an income,” he told Bernama, adding that he did not realise his aquaponic garden, which he started on a small scale, would become successful and turn into a reference model for other aquaponic enthusiasts.

Although aquaponics has great commercial potential and also has an edge over conventional cultivation techniques, it is not widely implemented in Malaysia, he said.

“You can have an aquaponic garden on your lawn or even in the porch or verandah to produce your own organic vegetables.

“The vegetables are nutritious, healthy and safe for consumption because no chemical fertilisers are used. The waste materials from the fish are channelled to the plants as natural fertiliser,” he said, adding that the plants only need to be watered once a week until they are ready for harvesting.

In the fish tanks that form part of his garden’s aquaponic system, Murugan rears ikan sepat and ikan talapia which, he said, are relatively easy to look after.

He said ever since he went into aquaponics, he and his wife S Kogilavani, as well as their four children aged between 16 and 26 have grown closer as they help him in the garden.

“They’ve also become interested in aquaponics and often give me ideas on how to improve the system in order to enhance the quality of our yields,” he said.

Good Potential

Murugan said in order to enable more people to harness the potential of aquaponics, he has been collaborating with FAMA Johor for two years on a programme the agency had initiated to impart aquaponics farming skills to people in the B40 group.

“There are 50 participants in this programme. I am sharing my knowledge and experience in aquaponics with them and teaching them to start their own ventures, so that they can generate an income from it,” he explained.

Vegetables like lettuce, betel leaves, coriander and chillies cultivated through aquaponics have a high market value, he said, adding that Brazilian spinach, for instance, can fetch about RM80 a kg. Murugan, who also shares some of his produce with his neighbours, has helped open an aquaponic garden at SJK (T) Gelang Patah in conjunction with the school’s Green Earth, Healthy Earth campaign.

As for his future plans, Murugan said he is teaming up with a partner to build a greenhouse to enable them to embark on large-scale aquaponics.

“First, we’ve to secure the capital and find the land for the greenhouse. The greenhouse concept is very appropriate for aquaponics as the temperature can be controlled and the plants can be protected against rain,” he said, adding that he is also open to collaborating with any government agency to promote aquaponics farming among the people, including the younger generation. — Bernama