Project Results: 

Kenya Aquaponics

Introducing an innovative form of aqua agriculture

Water is an increasingly scarce commodity in booming Kenya, while vegetables and fish are in high demand. The project introduced an innovative way of aquaculture: multi-loop aquaponics, tested in a peri-urban demonstration farm. Live tiliapa fish in a tank produce sludge, which contains many nutrients. This enriched water is recirculated throughout the system so that it passes through the hydroponics based grow beds in a green house, where crops are steadily being cultivated. The core goal was to develop and evaluate the business case for aquaponics and for other low and middle income countries.

Key results

  • The demonstration farm of 1,000 m2 convincingly demonstrated the technical feasibility of multi-loop aquaponics: it is indeed a highly productive, water and nutrient saving technology.

  • Reduces the need for water by over 90%.

  • No pesticides needed, far less fertilizers.

  • No dependency on soil fertility.

  • The system is expected to be ten times more land-resource use efficient compared to open soil farming.

  • Employment creation for 6 permanent and 3-10 casual staff.

Tips for the future

  • To achieve economies of scale, sufficient production capacity is required for revenues to cover costs.

  • The design and production of adapted (scaled-down and simplified) systems for Kenyan farmers appeared not to be able to compete financially with simple hydroponics systems.

Potential for growth
With additional investments, the demonstration farm will be sustainable and able to scale. It can continue to provide a learning experience/knowledge platform for everyone interested in aquaponics in the region. The farm can expand and become a financially sustainable operation in its own right. Replication of similar (larger) scale by other agripreneurs is possible, if they have identified a specific niche market that is willing to pay a small premium in order to be financially viable.

Project partners
Tinder Ltd, WUR, TGS, Developonics

July 2017 - December 2018


Nairobi, Kenya


Kenya is booming, with new businesses starting frequently and new developments happening rapidly. Rapid urbanization and the rise of a middle class offer plenty of opportunities for investors and entrepreneurs; however, agricultural investments are still not able to meet the demand for high quality fresh vegetables. Cities in Africa are expected to grow rapidly in size over the next decades. As urbanization increases, other types of land use practices will begin to encroach onto land currently utilized for agriculture. This places real constraints on food production, which is evident in increased food prices and the need for imports. Kenya is presently a net importer of food, due to population growth, inefficient farming practices, lack of suitable land and the fact that only a small percentage of smallholders use irrigation. This situation is exacerbated by the present drought that afflicts much of East Africa.

Food production systems that consume limited amounts of water, fertilizers, pesticides or labor, that preserve nutrients and are not dependent on soil fertility, have the potential to contribute substantially to food security whilst improving small-scale farmer incomes. Multi-loop aquaponics is able to combine all these factors. New to Africa, this project proposes to introduce this technology to Kenya to demonstrate its potential whilst designing commercial pathways for scaling.

We believe that the aquaponics business model offers great potential to Kenyan farmers that are looking for better business opportunities. To ensure widespread uptake, it is crucial to showcase the technology and business model. Seeing is believing, and a convincing demonstration is crucial to convince local investors and agri-preneurs to come on board. The objective of this project is therefore to build, test & adjust, operate and demonstrate the technology and business model whilst building pathways to scale.

Project Plan

This interdisciplinary project addresses a range of socio-economic and scientific questions pertaining to food production within integrated aqua-agricultural systems. The work packages are designed to establish to what degree the concept of multi-loop aquaponics can be implemented successfully in Kenya and other Eastern-African countries. A range of socio-economic and commercial factors supporting or impeding the adoption of integrated systems must also be identified at key points along the supply chain to support industry development.

**Work Package 1: Concept and modelling**

Lead: (WUR, Developonics)
Concept and modelling with its focus on dynamic and spatially-distributed modelling of a multi-loop aquaponic system with its innovative concepts for water, nutrients and energy management. Alternative routes will be investigated to find scenarios for the highest resource use efficiencies under low emission conditions.

Specific tasks related to WP1:
TASK 1: An integrated computer model will be developed to enable simulation and optimization of system solutions with respect to water consumption, water quality, waste avoidance, carbon dioxide emission, nutrient and energy consumption.
TASK 2: Evaluation of potential routes in the food supply chain of aquaponic systems in terms of water, energy and nutrients consumption and carbon dioxide emission.

**Work package 2: Demonstration of an integrated aqua-agriculture system**

Lead: (Tinder Ltd., Developonics, TGS, WUR, Upande)
All partners will support the design and operation of an integrated aqua-agriculture demo system in Kenya. Different scenarios for integrated aqua-agriculture applications will be investigated, using a model-assisted planning and decision making tool for end-users, with the most practical solution implemented.

Specific tasks related to WP2:
TASK 1: Procure the required hardware and equipment; install and commission a functioning multi-loop aquaponics system on site nearby Nairobi, Kenya.
TASK 2: Perform experiments on the demo systems Kenya to assess water, energy, nutrient consumption and production.
TASK 3: Evaluate the experimental results in terms of water and nutrient use efficiencies, energy consumption and production.
TASK 4: Test existing and new aquaponics-relevant sensors on the demo system in Kenya.

**Work package 3: Socio-economic, commercial & logistical evaluation**

Lead: (TGS, Developonics, Tinder Ltd., Upande)
On the basis of the different scenarios with corresponding policy instruments, we will examine socio-economic, commercial & logistical (i.e. transportation and storage) evaluation of integrated aqua-agriculture food supply chains.

Specific tasks related to WP3:
TASK 1: Examination of economy of scale effects (i.e. defining the smallest possible economical size) for operational aquaponic systems to determine where aquaponics production fits into different settings: rural, suburban and urban Kenya. Predict how socio-economic factors in each setting will impede or speed up adoption of new technologies and enterprises. Determine probable labor, financial and legal constraints in each setting, how they are different and similar.
TASK 2: Examination of the CO2 emission and energy need per unit from production.
TASK 3: Develop an evidence-based comparative analysis of benefits and impediments for each setting at key points in the supply chain (e.g. equipment acquisition and maintenance, energy requirements, labor and training, waste management, storage facilities, transportation, marketing, sales, profitability and potential for scaling and replication).
TASK 4: Develop a dissemination strategy to make the production system known in Kenya, develop social media marketing that explains the opportunity. Organise open days and meetings with interested parties (identifying early-adopters).

Target group

This project will demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of aquaponics to farmers and farming organisations (e.g. cooperatives) in Kenya, whilst encouraging them to also engage in this form of (urban) agri-business.


The completed project will be used as a training site and demonstration model for marketing the sale of additional systems across Kenya in a single package combining hardware and training. We will do this by offering a comprehensive ‘aquaponics business in a box’ kit, that comes complete with all necessary equipment, supplies, training and (online/phone) support.

Through partnerships with SACCOs, micro-finance and banks that target rural customers (e.g. Equity Bank) we will make such kits available in an affordable, and thus more attractive manner, to small-scale farmers across Kenya. This model has already proven successful for the sale of greenhouses and other income-generating equipment in Kenya. TGS has performed a pilot project with the aquaponics business in a box concept in Ethiopia, lessons learned there will benefit the current project.

During the project, we will also explore the potential for ‘franchising’ small-scale farmers, all the way from the provision of high quality inputs to aggregating sales, thereby cutting out middlemen and ensuring higher farmer incomes. If positive, this outcome would be described in a separate business plan.

We will aim to replicate internationally by offering to supply aquaponics kits to local distributors under a licensing agreement. In selected cases, we would deliver and operate complete systems under a joint-venture with local businesses in areas that experience specific challenges. An example is the South of Madagascar, where due to contamination with Pseudomonas syringae it is impossible to grow tomatoes in ordinary soil. With tomatoes being transported over 1,000 kms to this market, a local aquaponics operation will be highly profitable and beneficial to local food security.

Meanwhile we envisage to subsequently scale the actual demonstration system set up under this project to its maximum potential on the available site, whilst operating this as a commercial venture. This provides opportunities for further technical testing and refinements. Meanwhile, revenues thus generated would flow back into the company selling the systems to the wider farmer community in Kenya.

A comprehensive business plan will be delivered at the end of the project, which we expect to be able to finance from (impact) investors rather than grants.

Overview of Goals

1. A running aquaponics farm of 1,000m2:
a. The farm will serve as an innovation platform for others to start with aquaponics.
b. The farm will operate as a sustainable business, earning revenues from the sale of fish and vegetables, thereby proving the viability of aquaponics business model. The farm will generate income for 5-10 employees.
c. Opportunities will be sought to expand the farm to further innovate even after funding from VIAwater has finished.
2. A business in a box is developed:
a. An input value chain is developed that provides: fingerlings, fish food, seeds, nutrients and construction materials including cost-reduced system infrastructure.
b. An output value chain is developed that provides new investors with market access to the aquaponics niche market that will be created as part of this project.
c. A business model is developed indicating investment costs, operational costs and profitability. In this it is of core importance to reduce investment costs by at least 20-30%.
3. A knowledge platform is built to aid others to start aquaponics farming:
a. (Social) media access to aquaponics ideas.
b. The model farm will act as a training facility.

Results and indicators

  • 1. A running aquaponics farm of 1,000m2
    • Farms operational