Mahanain, Haiti Aquaponics Part 1

Today implementation started in Mahanaim. Luiguy Massanga has worked incredibly hard developing the village in Mahanaim and the aquaponics garden has been a vision since the beginning in 2010. Students from Johnson C. Smith Univeristy, Doctor Philip O, Luiguy Massanga, 100 Gardens and community members in Mahanaim are all working together to implement the aquaponics garden. The construction of the system is made possible by the Duke Endowment, and my trip was made possible by Joseph’s Exchange

This demonstration unit is intended to produce high quality food as well as demonstrate the benefits of aquaponics and to provide hands on learning for various subjects such as science, math, engineering and technology. The system itself will be built using concrete. The fish tank and storage room will be underneath a steel covering which will have a solar array secured to the top. The storage batteries, feed and other supplies will be housed in the storage room.

The aquaponics system will operate as a flood and drain unit. There is a 3500 liter fish tank and (3) 3.5m x 1m x 0.3m growing beds. The growing beds function as the biological filters and the plant growing sites. One of the main challenges will be finding out if the gravel here is suitable for aquaponics. Most of the gravel in Mahanaim is limestone. Limestone should not be used as the growing substrate because as the calcium carbonate is flooded with the fish tank effluent, the calcium will dissolve when nitrifying bacteria release acid. This will raise the pH to an uncontrollable level and make system operation difficult, if not impossible.

Rendering of the aquaponics training site

Rendering of the aquaponics training site

Today we made great progress with the implementation of the aquaponics garden. Along with a Haitian engineer, Luiguy and community volunteers, we completed the floor layout for all system components. With just some basic instruction from myself and Luiguy, the engineer and the community member went to work. They cut limbs from trees and sharpened the edges to make stakes and pounded them into the ground with large rocks. They proceeded to draw string between the stakes to define the areas where the system components will be installed. Using only a square and a measuring tape they plotted out the entire system, storage building and covering structure with amazing accuracy. It was quite an experience to see A vision I have sketched on Google Sketchup coming to life by a community of hard working people in another country, most of which I cannot even communicate with because I cannot speak creole or French. There seems to be a consensus between everyone involved that this is an important project for the community and everyone showed up to help and everyone was smiling, it was a beautiful site and I am incredibly honored to be a part of it.



Luiguy Massanga, Dr. O and community member discussing the site plan


Site is now ready to begin work

Now that the site is laid out we can begin construction!


Trip to Bayonnais, Haiti


Trip to Bayonnais

After visiting Bayonnais in January 2014, aquaponics as a teaching tool, as well as an alternative to traditional farming, is looking very optimistic. The agronomists, JaqueElie, Villate, and Wallace are very knowledgeable and I am very confident they will be able to learn, and teach this technology to others. The site will be a training facility, for teaching farmers and students, as well as a supply hub for surrounding operations.


Before starting an aquaponics project, several factors must be in place.

● People knowledgeable in agriculture
● Access to commercial fish feed
● Access to tilapia fingerlings
● Reliable power supply
● Access to seeds
● Adequate water supply
● Readily available construction materials

The agronomists are ready to begin and believe the aquaponics project will greatly benefit
students, farmers, and the community with both fresh food and a source of income. Among those benefits, Jaque-Elie insisted that the facility be modern, so that it can be an example of where Bayonnais should be in the future.
Before starting the project, the agronomists will need to secure a source for commercial fish feed, agricultural lime, chelated iron, biological pesticides and tilapia fingerlings. It may be, depending on the difficulty of acquiring tilapia fingerlings, necessary for the agronomists to also build and operate a hatchery to produce tilapia fingerlings for the aquaponics project, and future aquaponics farmers. As we and the agronomists start to begin to design the facility, we will determine power needs, and all construction materials needed.
The design that may be most appropriate for aquaponics in Bayonnais is a Media-based,
reciprocating flow aquaponics. This design is similar to a vertical flow constructed wetland
(VFCW) and produces approximately 24 times the amount of as produce compared to fish
production. This method uses the least electricity, and yields high quality produce and fish at rates that exceed traditional agriculture. The water usage is only 10% of traditional vegetable farming and produces ~50 times the amount of tilapia per unit of water as compared to pond culture. The labor required to operate the system involves chemical water testing, seeding, harvesting, feeding fish, applying IPM (integrated pest management) techinques and record keeping. The recording of data is imperative, as this data will improve the design for future aquaponics startups in Bayonnais, and will serve as a powerful platform for data analysis in the school. Students can become actively involved in testing the water for pH, nitrogen content, dissolved oxygen, iron and many other parameters that affect the performance of the system. The decisions they make on how much to feed and how much lime to add will be determined by the data they collect and analyse. We envision multiple, replicated systems for the use of controlled experiments using different plant types, fish stocking densities, feeding rates etc…
The following factors are currently under discussion:
● Source of commercial fish feed
● Source of tilapia broodstock
● Source of seeds
● Quality of water coming from irrigation canal
● Source of river gravel to be used for plant growing substrate
● Source of pumps, air blowers and plumbing supplies.
● Hatchery requirements

Once we can secure a source of feed, broodstock, seeds, water quality, and composition of gravel, we can begin the project. We propose the project to take place in the following phases once started:
1. Gather materials for construction of hatchery and aquaponics systems (gravel, concrete, pumps etc…)
2. Begin construction of standalone power unit and hatchery (if needed). The hatchery can begin operation once completed and training will begin for hatchery management
3. Once hatchery is completed, construction of the aquaponics training facility will begin.
Ongoing hatchery training will be done in person during construction and via email once
water is flowing. Site for aquaponics training facility will be laid out and construction can
4. As aquaponics systems are being constructed, agronomists will be operating the
hatchery and starting to produce tilapia fingerlings. Preliminary aquaponics training will
begin as construction takes place.
5. Once the aquaponics systems are completed, they will be stocked at 25% capacity of
fish to allow for bacterial colonization of the new aquaponics systems. This takes
approximately one month before the systems can be stocked with more fish. After 6
months post-construction, the systems will be fully stocked and operational.
Projected facilities needed:
1. Hatchery complete with broodstock tanks, fry incubation, and fingerling tanks
2. Several replicated aquaponics systems for training purposes
3. Seeding and harvesting area
4. Holding tank for market ready fish
5. Additional power supply for all facilities listed
6. Storage area for feed and supplies


Current garden in Bayonnais growing pepper transplants


Soil cultivation is performed by hand in Bayonnais. This method is time consuming and labor intensive, although productive.