Aquaponics: a budding solution to feed cities

Published in the dossier of December 2019

In the urban agriculture family, aquaponics is in demand: a contraction of the words aquaculture (fish breeding) and hydroponics (soilless plant cultivation), aquaponics is one of the concrete solutions to tomorrow’s food issues*. Its main advantage is a high-performance, high-quality farming production system that can be easily integrated at the heart of the urban fabric.

BIGH (Building Integrated GreenHouses)

Founded in 2015 to create an aquaponics-based urban agriculture model, the start-up BIGH (Building Integrated GreenHouses) opened the “Ferme Abattoir” in Brussels in January 2018. Built under and on the roof of Foodmet (a recently rehabilitated food market), this farm allows it to distribute top-quality produce while favoring short supply chains and local consumption. Working in close collaboration with BIGH since 2017, Veolia became a company shareholder in September 2019.

This system, which falls under the Fertile Cities by Veolia project’s field of study, harnesses the expertise of the Group’s long-standing sectors of activity, which aim to build a circular economy in terms of energy, water and organic soil enrichers. For several years, Veolia has therefore been developing know-how in designing and constructing high-performance aquaculture systems.

“Constructing agricultural production in an urban environment already involves a circular perspective, as the city has a great many useful resources. One of the key factors in aquaponics’ success is adopting a systemic approach. The role of a coordinator like Veolia is thus decisive in the success of this type of practice,” explains Loïc Couttelle, Project Director at 2EI Veolia.

Whether it concerns controlling the water cycle for irrigation or the organic matter cycle to ensure crop fertility, along with the energy to create a favorable climate for plants, Veolia’s three main areas of expertise complement each other at each step in the aquaponics system.

In Brussels, the Group is helping the start-up BIGH with the technical development of the largest aquaponics farm in Europe: 1,000 m2 of aquaculture ponds, 2,000 m2 of outdoor productive vegetable gardens, and 2,000 m2 of horticultural greenhouses. Installed on the roof of Foodmet food hall, it enjoys a huge surface area, an essential condition for breeding high-quality aquatic species for consumption and growing large amounts of plants.
An aquaponics pioneer, BIGH can count on Veolia’s international business network and its technical capacity to roll out a vast network of urban farms.


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*According to the FAO, to feed the projected global population of 9.5 billion by 2050 (80% of whom will be living in cities), global food production must increase by 70%.