‘Uganda Project’ students’ seed aquaponics venture


learning about aquaponics

(From left) Zachary Stiefel, a junior communication major from Ellwood City; Chamindu Kavindra, SEA intern from Colombo, Sri Lanka; Arushan Yogalingam, a junior management major from Colombo, Sri Lanka; Mayron Veiga, a senior management major from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Dong-Wook Kim, a post baccalaureate student from Seoul, Korea, are working to develop an aquaponic prototype with John Golden, director of SRU’s Sustainable Enterprise Accelerator.

July 13, 2015

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Slippery Rock University students involved with its Sustainable Enterprise Accelerator have entered the sustainable agriculture field of aquaponics. Aquaponics combines fish cultivation (aquaculture) with water-based gardening (hydroponics) together in one system. The fish waste provides food for the growing plants and the plants provide a natural filter for the water in which the fish live.

The students received a $6,500 gift to research, build and test an aquaponics fish tank system on campus. The plan is to transport or replicate their prototype in Lukaya, Uganda, to seed a multiplier-effect entrepreneurial ecosystem providing food and jobs.

Ken Bennett, president-elect of the Slippery Rock Rotary, presented the funding for the "Uganda Project." The backing will cover design, materials, equipment and instruction.

John Golden, SRU assistant professor of business, is supervising the research project, which is the first of its kind at SRU.

"One of the technologies that does not exist in Lukaya is aquaponics," said Golden, who directs SRU's Sustainable Enterprise Accelerator, which works to merge environmental stewardship with business investment.

john golden


"Lukaya is a very poor area of Uganda," Golden said. "They lack resources, they lack water, and so the idea is to help Ugandans build a start-up there. If SRU students succeed building it here, the system could be replicated in other parts of Africa."

Students hope to begin building their prototype beginning July 20 at SRU's Robert A. Macoskey Center for Sustainable Systems Education and Research.

Students envision an eight-foot, in-ground pool with an accompanying garden, but are still finalizing the design.

The system will pump water and tilapia fish waste from a fish tank into a flood tank filled with plants. Plants help clean the water, which is re-circulated into the fish tank for a repeating cycle.

Students plan to reach out to SRU's biology department to learn more about plant and fish physiology.

"Our aquaponics design uses 90 percent less water and produces twice as much plant food," said Maryron Veiga, a business management major from Brazil, who serves as project manager.

He said involvement offers many learning opportunities, cultural and otherwise.

"I got involved with the Uganda Project because I thought it would be interesting to learn and interact with an African culture I know very little about," he said. "I have learned that not just Uganda, but Africa in general, has developed very little since the colonization period."

"I am passionate about sustainability because I believe that quality standards of living can be achieved and maintained through sustainable and clean ways," Veiga said. "I believe that human kind can relate more to nature and still discover better ways of living by developing technologies."

Veiga said he hopes to become a "top quality footballer and promote cleaner and more sustainable manners of living by selling solar panels and windmills."

Kim DongWook, a business management major from South Korea, said he is interested in international trade and expects the aquaponics project to give him experience for a career in international relations or official development assistance, which funds international aid.

"I like trade because we can provide necessary goods and services to other places by trade," he said. "We can provide water to the desert, and we can provide heaters to the North Pole. I thought the aquaponics project was very similar to trade. We can provide foods and skills which Ugandans want in Uganda."

DongWook said he is passionate about sustainability because many environmental issues are global, such as air pollution and global warming.

"Environmentalists warn that people will meet big disaster soon unless they get serious about environmental pollution," he said. "One of the solutions to environmental problems is sustainability. Therefore, sustainability will be a more important topic in the future."

Zachary Stiefel, a communication major from Ellwood City, said he got involved because, unlike some projects, the team is putting ideas into reality by constructing a prototype.

I am hoping to learn how to actually build an aquaponics system and want to study the results to see if it truly will benefit areas that have a lack of water to grow crops much quicker while using much less water than normal farming practices," he said.

Stiefel said the main reason he embraces sustainability is because there are only so many natural resources to go around.

"I want the next generation to be able to have a future and the generation after them as well. In order for a better future we need to start now looking for ways to get away from using fossil fuels, and moving to alternative practices to try and slow the rapid climate change that we are experiencing," he said.

"My generation in specific is already starting to see a lot of effects of the climate change between all the animal migrations to the increasing temperatures in the oceans," he said. "The only way things will change is if we as people change to a more sustainable lifestyle that will actually benefit the earth instead of constantly harming it for our own benefit."

MEDIA CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine | 724.738.4854 | gordon.ovenshine@sru.edu