sustainable farming

Melbourne Aquaponics

Jonathan Martinetto | Founder of Melbourne Aquaponics

Jonathan Martinetto | Founder of Melbourne Aquaponics

By: Jonathan Martinetto | Founder of Melbourne Aquaponics

About the author: Jonathan Martinetto is the founder of Melbourne Aquaponics, a business with the aim to spread sustainable food production techniques through aquaponics. He is also the author of the digital aquaponics manual “The art of Aquaponics”, a comprehensive guide to successful aquaponics management.

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Melbourne Aquaponics and Barefoot Solutions

I am personally a big fan and lover of permaculture, and always happy to hear and learn from new permaculture initiatives around the world. When I first came across Barefoot solutions I was intrigued and curious to discover the application of permaculture in Africa. Their website provides plenty of valuable information and has helped me to get a better understanding of their work and accomplishments. I have particularly appreciated the technical articles such as the one about the banana circles! There is so much we can do when we apply the right technique and work with nature…

I deeply believe aquaponics could also bring additional benefits. I have thus contacted the team as I would love to share my experience and passion with the Barefoot solutions community. So here we are.

What is aquaponics and why it represents an opportunity for the African continent…

Aquaponics is a food production technique involving fish and vegetables. Unlike most mass food production techniques, aquaponics is a real ecosystem where fish, bacteria and plants but also fungus, worms and insects work altogether. Aquaponics use the natural cycle of life also known as “nitrogen cycle”. Nothing is lost! Like in a forest or a river, everything is recycled. The waste of one species are used as a source of food for the others. No pesticides are used. The smallest amount of insecticide would damage the bacteria population that is playing a key role in the aquaponics ecosystem. Pest are regulated thanks to natural predators present in the ecosystem. Nature is doing the job by itself.

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Why is it so well adapted to the African continent?

One of the main advantages of aquaponics is the supply of water required. As aquaponics work as a closed system, the water is recycled and kept, as opposed to a classic garden where it would be lost in the soil. The result is quite significant; this method actually consumes 10 times less water than in a classic garden and produces twice as much! Light and temperature also play an important role, so it seems it shouldn’t be an issue on this continent.

In Africa where water is such a scarce resource, this solution seems to be an interesting choice and avenue for food production.

What type of fish and vegetables can we grow in aquaponics?

A large number of fish is adapted for aquaponics in Africa. Among them, the tilapia and catfish. Those are hardy and adapted to warm water conditions. In aquaponics they will produce a nice flesh and offer nitrogen to the system.

From a plants perspective aquaponics allow to grow a large variety of species. To note though, leafy plants such as lettuce, spinach and silver beet are the easiest to grow. 

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What type of investment does aquaponics require?

When we talk about aquaponics it is important to differentiate commercial aquaponics and backyard aquaponics.

Commercial aquaponics generally use the 2 large scale techniques that are Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) and Deep Water Culture (DWC). The aim of this article being to give you a light overview of aquaponics, we will not detail those 2 techniques here.

The third technique accessible to everyone who desire to grow some food in their backyard is called grow-bed aquaponics. The simplest version consists of 2 tanks, one on top of the other. The bottom tank houses fish and the top tank is filled with rocks where vegetables grow.

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In terms of investment a backyard aquaponics can be achieved with a very limited budget and recycled materials. Commercial aquaponics will request more expensive equipment and a greenhouse in order to maximize the system productivity.

What maintenance is required?

Nature is doing the job for you and takes care of everything. The ecosystem auto balances itself as long as the condition offered are adapted. The maintenance of an aquaponics system is mainly to feed the fish and maintain correct water parameters. There are no back breaking labour, weeding, watering or spraying required. As you can tell, maintenance tasks are very limited.

With few recycled tanks you can build a system producing fish and vegetables in your own backyard without effort!

Where to start?

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Aquaponics is an effective solution to locally produce sustainable, healthy and tasty food. The only challenge being to offer and maintain a good environment to your ecosystem. Yes, specific knowledge in biology is required but don’t be intimidated, everybody is able to learn the basics and get started. My aim with Melbourne Aquaponics is to allow you to learn the needed basic knowledge to build and manage your own aquaponics system. You will find a free aquaponics training here that will help you to build your first aquaponics system and start producing sustainable, healthy and tasty food in your backyard!

If you need any further support we have an aquaponics website with a blog covering most of aquaponics questions. Click on the button below.


By Jesse De Boer

Work on our Turkana wastewater site kicked off mid November 2017 with a cheerful man called Patrick (an irrigation guru), the barefoot team and many, many rolls of shiny black pipe.

The site is located inside Tullow oil's main camp located within the Kapese community and the plan of attack involved the utilisation of approximately 50 - 100,000 litres of beautifully filtered wastewater a day... not bad for a desert!

Due to the wastewater factor - this site is all about fodder... waving boma rhodes, fat moringa branches, monster Napier grass and a number of trial species including indigenous, wild grasses, Sesbania sesban, Fhaidherbia albida, pigeon pea and an epic variety of purple leafed sweet potato.

... and because we're die hard poly-culturalists someone naughty also sneaked in some whopper pumpkins, mung beans, marigolds, banana's and a sporadic sprinkling of desert dates.

It's bloody brilliant.

Utilising wastewater, whether that's a couple of liters from your kitchen sink at home to commercial set up's like the oil camp is a good idea, no duh. And although we've been blessed with some mighty rains this year, the rest of the time such a valuable resource should be FORBIDDEN to run off into a stinking pool of greasy grey liquid where mosquito's gather together, throwing a party in honour of their lazy human hosts and procreating...

To date we have harvested over 10kg of moringa leaves (dried and will soon be processed into powdered superfood) and several lines of grasses and napier... half of which have been ingeniously baled DIY style and the rest that was shifted over to our main farm site 30km down the road to be spread over our vegetable beds as mulch...

This month's 'photo of the month' is a snap shot of this desert jungle we have created... with the simplest of designs and utilising an abundant and free resource... 

                                Before                                                                         After

Turkana wastewater banana circles'... 4.5 months in

Read more about our Turkana Drylands Desert Farm and how you can join us up here for a lifetime experience starting from June onward we will be hosting apprenticeship programs

Educating the Next Generation

School kids visit from the Nakukulas, Turkana community

By Jess De Boer

Educating school children about Permaculture | Turkana

Educating school children about Permaculture | Turkana

When I am old and all bent over from years of digging and planting I will probably ask myself the question "who will feed me?"

But that question cannot wait. In fact it has never been more important than it is today. Now add climate change, top soil loss and dwindling amounts of land deemed fit for cultivation and suddenly this topic should be at the top of every national agenda.

Unfortunately it isn't.

School kids on our drylands permaculture farm

School kids on our drylands permaculture farm

According to Kenya's Nation newspaper, the number of students enrolled in agricultural degrees across the country has dropped from 671 in 2006 to 71 in 2017.

Elsewhere across the globe a similar trend is being witnessed and in Africa it is largely a result of a combination of factors. Some of these include the widespread stigmatisation of farmer's being aged, illiterate and 'poor' - (which kid dreams of being a farmer?) a complete lack of positive role models, unsupportive agricultural policy (for small scale farmers) and the changing climate which makes farming, especially in dryland areas tough... really tough.

Growing food the 'modern' way is also bloody expensive;  more than 80 percent of farmers across East Africa use chemicals to increase farm productivity and to keep weeds and pests from destroying their crops. During 2004 - 11. the Kenyan government imported $1.3 billion’s worth of chemical fertilisers and $578 million worth of pesticides to 'assist' in agricultural production despite many of these chemicals boasting toxicity levels so high that they have been banned in their countries of manufacture.

Chemical-intensive agriculture creates a cycle of economic dependency between farmers and chemical manufacturers, discouraging biodiversity and degrading soils and landscapes, making them more prone to drought and floods.

Permaculture, as a design philosophy can be used as an alternative to the use of chemicals in growing food. It involves sustainable ecological systems that are self-maintained and regenerative. By observing and simulating the features observed in natural ecosystems, permaculture replicates productivity patterns that exist naturally in the environment and as such, it stimulates the cultivation of several crops (polyculture) rather than a single crop (monoculture). By returning any organic waste (including food waste and manure) into the system, it also nurtures soils and biodiversity.

There is so much to learn - but perhaps more importantly for the question asked above, there is also so much to teach.

Ivan Lieman, our Co-Founder shows school kids how the wormery works

Ivan Lieman, our Co-Founder shows school kids how the wormery works

Last month we received 24 students who raised the equivalent of 20/- per head to be taken around our Nakukulas demonstration farm to learn about the permaculture way of growing food. 

The kids met our worms, turned some compost, walked through the agroforestry, kitchen gardens, irrigated polyculture zones and identified plants like peanuts that they used to know only as a tasty treat wrapped in plastic bought from the local duka.

These kids were engaged - they loved their morning with us and after a nibble on some freshly cut desert melon they also received a handful of moringa seeds to take back and plant at school.

Humans intrinsically feel good in a stable, abundant environment - and as we follow up with the school and their moringa forest we hope that one day, answering the bigger questions surrounding the responsibility of future of food production won't be that difficult.

Are you interested in what we are doing for the community in Nakukulas on our Drylands Permaculture site? Read more about our Voluntourism opportunities by following the link button below.

Journey with the Barefoot Turkana Team

Amana Demonstration Farm

By Michael Barton

Amana Dryland Demonstration Farm | Nakukulas, Turkana East

Amana Dryland Demonstration Farm | Nakukulas, Turkana East

A year ago, I had met a couple of the Barefoot Soulutions team briefly and was excited to join them in Kilifi for a course on waste water treatment through the use of a reed bed filtration system. This would be the first Barefoot Soulutions course I attended in 2017, and I approached it with excitement as the team exuded the Permaculture spirit of sharing knowledge and the potential solutions that can bring about abundance.

On the course, I learned much more then how to design and develop a Reed Bed Wastewater Treatment System, as every conversation with the team included new knowledge and projects to be done. This is when I first learned about the potential Turkana drylands demonstration site project that Barefoot had applied for, a tender put out by Tullow Oil company. The team had worked hard for over a year to prepare for this potential project and was now waiting for their application to be accepted.

Fast forward a month and Barefoot had it. They received confirmation of being the chosen company to roll out the initiative, and would now be subcontracted by Tullow for a Livelihoods Programme in Turkana East and South. The team was mobilized and there was a buzz! There was so much work to be done to get the project off the page and into reality. I received a few images of the sites that would later become a second home, my first thoughts were ‘wow that looks harsh!’

In June of 2017 I was invited to visit Amana Farm, the Barefoot Soulutions demonstration site in Nakukulas, Turkana East. This reci trip was a chance to view the site, meet the team and learn more about the work ahead. My first impressions were that of being overwhelmed and skeptical of any success. I spent my free time wondering the site looking for signs of life. Being a naturalist at heart, I was shocked by the lack of biodiversity in this place. I remember walking the entire perimeter of the plot to see what insects or signs I could find from the local ecology. I came back with a handful of dead beetles, and asking if we could get some experts to come and identify what life there was here, because I certainly couldn’t find it.

First Site Visit | Amana Demonstration Site

First Site Visit | Amana Demonstration Site

Three months on and I’m back in Turkana, yet this time as I move around the site, my inner naturalist is back to its childlike wonder. Everywhere I move now a new niche has been created, pockets of green have sprung up, designed around our water sources with a guild of diverse plant cover.  Benefiting from these new designed ecologies are populations of insects I have not seen anywhere else in Kenya. We have identified that there is a local population of Hedgehogs. Their nighttime activity of searching for food is, in a small way, amplifying our work as they burrow along our drip fed garden beds eating pests and loosening the soil.   My mind is full of new bird and insect sightings, and I see the development of species list inevitable.


And now as the project enters it's tenth month, one can hardly believe the transformation that has occurred. Before the site hosted a handful of tree, shrub and grass species all stunted, by over grazing from livestock or frequently visited for a limb or two for household cooking. And now, there is a thriving tree nursery with 5,000 seedlings made up of over thirty species. We have planted seven of the fifteen Agroforestry swales. These are each 75 meters long with diversity ranging from Boma Rhodes grass and sweet potato to Flamboyant and Mango trees. Our 250-meter squared vegetable production zone, boasts the freshest mix of vegetables around, creating a new market and livelihood for the local community and women’s group.  


The successes seen thus far haven’t come without setbacks. Each day presents new challenges as we fight to create and maintain the new life in this area. Ecological solutions to pest control, and responsible water use and management, top that list, however one cannot help but smile at the abundance that is only starting to grow here.

But possibly the greatest success I have observed, is how this place turns heads and puts a look of wonder on the faces of our visitors, and the boda-boda drivers as they zip by. Having hosted the local community women’s groups and field trips from the nearby schools this site fills minds with curiosity and endless questions as we, along with the community, are just beginning to realize the true educational potential this site has to offer.  

Community Women's Group | Nakukulas, Turkana East

Community Women's Group | Nakukulas, Turkana East

A lot of effort, and a lot of thought has gone into the development thus far, and I tip my hat to the six women from Nakukulas and the Barefoot Team for the incredible work they have accomplished this far. As one of the few consultants aiding Barefoot Soulutions on this project I will say I am proud to be a part of what has and will be done here. But in the Permaculture way, we are just the designers, preparing this site to allow Mother Nature to take over and thrive. 

Watch this space, Abundance is on its way.

The Barefoot Soulutions Turkana Team | Turkana East

The Barefoot Soulutions Turkana Team | Turkana East


Does Michael's experience with the Barefoot Turkana Team appeal to you? Does volunteering with us on our Dryland Desert Farm in Turkana interest you? Visit our Voluntoursim page for more information and how to apply by clicking on the button below.

Greening the desert - a day in the life of

An update from the Barefoot Soulutions team from their permaculture project in Turkana East county – North Kenya

Akale Samuel (aka Anna) is a 46-year old Turkana from the Aduyait clan. She lives in Nakukalas; an acacia dotted, wind swept town some 40 minutes drive south of Lokichar.

Anna is a widow with 2 grown children; a boy and a girl who are both married and live elsewhere. She owns 10 goats and since July 2017 Anna has been working alongside 5 other widowers at the ‘Amana (Turkana for shamba) Demonstration Farm; A flourishing permaculture hub that aims to connect the local community with future possibility.

Anna, Turkana woman farmer | Amana Demonstration Farm | Permaculture

Anna, Turkana woman farmer | Amana Demonstration Farm | Permaculture

Over the last 10 years the traditional pastoralist lifestyle of the Turkana people has changed enormously; the formal economy replacing a barter system that revolved around livestock including camels, goats, sheep and donkeys. With the changing times, Anna relocated to Eldoret where she rented a 1-acre plot in Was-ingishu growing maze, wimbi and leafy greens that she sold locally for several years before returning back to Turkana in 2002, hungry for home. For some years she ran a small duka selling tobacco and from a loan secured through her local woman’s group she purchased her goats.

2016 was a dry year for huge swathes of Kenya and it hit Turkana hard; many of the roads today are lined with mountains of sun bleached skeletons and Anna’s herd suffered enough for her to start looking for work … and this is where we met.

Work at Amana begins at 6:30am sharp, just as the sun climbs up above the Kawerer escarpment and for a solid 45 minutes the air is fresh. By 7:30 however those rays have warmed and Jackson; the farm manager is urging everyone to finish their watering duties chap-chap. Armed with two black jerry cans Anna completes her line of Moringa oliferra’s spaced evenly along the perimeter fence and moves towards her personal sack garden whilst the other women finish off the remaining polyculture beds laid out beneath several mature Eregai (Acacia reficiens) that offer the bok-choy, spinach, lemongrass and chia some welcome albeit patchy shade.

Anna plants line of  Moringa oliferra’s  spaced evenly along the perimeter fence

Anna plants line of Moringa oliferra’s spaced evenly along the perimeter fence

Once finished with the watering there are endless tasks to be completed; germinating herbs, vegetables and indigenous seeds in the nursery; mixing soil and goat mbolea collected from a neighboring boma into ready-to-go piles or chopping up the 100 plus kg’s of fresh food waste collected that morning from a nearby oil drilling camp. Once this task is completed the pieces are added to a brand new ‘hot compost’ heap layered with wet cardboard collected from the same camp, more mbolea and a sprinkling of effective micro-organisms before it is covered by a black plastic tarpaulin beneath which the bacteria immediately get to work, transforming this pile of leftovers into a steamy rich soil enhancer in just 35 days.

Papaya seeds and food waste used to make compost | Turkana Women Farmers

Papaya seeds and food waste used to make compost | Turkana Women Farmers

Making Compost | Turkana Farm women

Making Compost | Turkana Farm women

Mulch – or dried organic matter, plays an essential part in retaining soil moisture but so dry and overgrazed is the Turkana environment that excess material like grass is in seriously short supply. Until the systems on site have reached their full potential in producing harvestable quantities Anna and her gang of heavily beaded women make do with sacks of sawdust, donated free of charge from the local hardware store, sprinkling it around the small depressions surrounding each tree seedling and along the surfaces of vegetable beds aided by the living (green) mulch provided by sweet potato vines and pumpkins.

Turkana women | Making Compost

Turkana women | Making Compost

Out on the drip irrigation site, the first glimmer of green has broken through the carefully leveled soil; leguminous crops like pigeon and cow pea and green gram designed to kick start the microbial life in the soil that will soon pave the way for a variety of higher value species hardening in the nursery.

A similar exercise is kicking off in the agroforestry site where sixteen 80 meter rows lie waiting for the delivery of both indigenous and non-indigenous production trees that will in time provide demonstration quantities of timber, fodder, medicine and food.

By the time the afternoon shift rolls around, the young shoots and seedlings have gorged on sunshine, drooping their leaves to minimize water loss through evapotranspiration whilst those planted in the irrigation beds wait thirstily for the evening cool when the valves are twisted open.

The earthworms too require regular moistening as well as a steady quantity of finely chopped organics that include homegrown eggshell from 7 happy hens, tea bags and coffee grinds producing a fine bucketful of dark brown ’worm juice’ that will be diluted at a ratio of 10:1 as a mighty delicious liquid fertilizer.

Shower run off water feeds into banana circles on site | Turkana Women Farmers

Shower run off water feeds into banana circles on site | Turkana Women Farmers

The days move damn quick in this part of the world but before Anna and the rest of the ladies return home for the evening there is a general wipe down and clean up; heavy farm boots are replaced with flip flops and a well deserved shower is enjoyed; the sweaty run off lapped up by the flourishing banana circles that boast a riot of bright yellow sunflowers amongst a backdrop of rustling green.

The Amana farm certainly has a long way to go and between the heavily alkaline soils, hard water and crazy heat, the learning curve will remain almost vertical, but it is one that is being enjoyed by all.