Sustainability Stories #21
Fabrice Baillache, Chief Human Resources Officer at Rogers Capital and Sustainability Champion within the Rogers Group, has embarked on an organic food production journey. He shares his experience.
I’ve always been fascinated by food and how nutrition impacts our physical, emotional, and mental health. While I’ve been designing my own meal plans for several years, in the more recent ones, I have adopted a more PBWF (plant-based whole-food) organic diet for many reasons. It did not take long for me to realise the limited availability and high price of organic vegetables, fruits, and other foodstuffs at the time.
We must bear in mind that Mauritius is one of the countries with the highest pesticide usage per hectare. The latest report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on global trends in pesticide use puts Mauritius at the top of the list of countries that used the most pesticides in 2018, i.e. 27kg/ha. Also, the import of pesticides in Mauritius increased by 4.3%, from 2,590 tonnes to 2,700 tonnes. So, I took one of the best decisions of my life, grow (part of) my organic crops, i.e. chemicals free!
At this point, I must admit that I did not know anything about farming. Of course, trying to start growing veggies on the west coast without any experience was a total disaster for the first few months! Then I was introduced to Aquaponics – growing crops directly in the water while breeding fish. What a great invention, I was in awe of this discovery!
That said, research has shown that Aquaponics has existed since 1000 AD in ancient Aztec civilizations. However, it gained more traction in the 1970s in the US, where the first closed-loop system was developed in the mid-1980s. As far as I understand, Aquaponics has existed in Mauritius since the early 2000s, and with the different experts on the island, courses are now available quite readily.
Now, there are a lot of advantages in investing time, effort, and money in an aquaponics installation. Being a sustainability champion within Rogers Group, I also try to be congruent and consequently sustainable in my day-to-day, especially at home. Aquaponics has contributed to my sustainability practice for the following reasons:
Most vegetables grow at least two times faster than in the soil – it saves me from exhausting the minerals in my garden and therefore promotes faster growth of microorganisms in the soil.
I save tremendous volumes of water, approx. 95% as compared to watering a garden.
It does not require much maintenance due to reduced pathogen, pests, and nuisances (snails, for instance) – I spend only around 2 hours per week maintaining my system, fish, and crops. I use the time saved to breed chicken and get my free-range eggs.
I grow more using less space – I can grow up to 230 plants simultaneously on a 20 square metres balcony – this could be a national solution for healthier local production.
All my crops are natural and organic – I only add minerals once per month but no chemicals. There is no risk of pollution;
I can produce almost all year round depending on varieties – I eat with the seasons, but almost everything can grow at any time of the year if the conditions are ideal.
Simply, here’s how it works: the fish produce ammonia from their waste excretion. Healthy bacteria in the water transform this ammonia into nitrite and eventually nitrate. And the nitrate feeds the plants. And if you are worried about caterpillars and others, they can be treated in an unaggressive manner, e.g. using neem oil as a repellent. I also reckon that having a few leaves eaten by these insects is the least I could do to return to nature part of what it is giving me.
Aquaponics has had a real impact on my life. Besides the physical and financial health it brings, it feels good to eat what you produce. I tend to believe that if each Mauritian family could have a basic aquaponics installation at home (be it in their yard, on their roof, or balcony), they would be able to grow 90 plants simultaneously and with a proper rotation and variety, be at least 50% self-sufficient. Health is priceless; we are what we eat; it is our responsibility to take care of ourselves.