The aquaponics unit is nearly complete, including the physical concrete structure, irrigation and drain pipe system, rainwater source, pump and timer (wired and functioning), gravel for the grow beds, secure fencing, and shade cover. Impressive! The part of the project that involves evaluating health and behavioral changes associated with the aquaponics unit (and access to nutritious fish and vegetables) has started as well, with a training session and questionnaire pilot testing with the young women who will be conducting the baseline surveys and biometric health tests.
This aquaponics project in Peru includes biometric testing of community children to determine changes in their height, weight, and hemoglobin over time, which should improve with increased access to nutritious food from the fish and vegetables in the aquaponics unit. After successfully testing the (almost complete!) aquaponics unit today, we accompanied the nurses to an orphanage for some initial baseline biometric tests.
We toured a nearby Peruvian brewery (Backus, with a large, modern brewing facility), which carries out several conservation efforts. Some of their programs include managing a tree nursery/farm for reforestation and soil conservation, reusing brewery and other wastes to produce compost, and sheltering several amazonian species such as jaguars. They may be able to support INMED in future aquaponics projects.
We headed west over the weekend towards the Andes to explore the high jungle, arriving after a 5-hour drive over windy roads that frequently wash out from heavy rains. We had a spectacular tour of the Parque Nacional de Tingo Maria in the Blue Mountains, including the Cueva de las Lechuzas (Owl Cave, which is actually home to oil birds and bats), natural sulfur and saltwater springs (and healing swims and mud masks therein), raging muddy rivers and crystal clear waterfalls, and striking birds, bugs, and bamboo (among other plants and animals) of the jungle – loved it!
We visited the Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana (or IIAP), where they study, manage, and protect biological organisms of the Amazon Rainforest. The Biologist, Professor Roger Basan, gave us a thorough tour of their aquatic organism facility outside of Pucallpa, where they cultivate and study plankton, native fish species, and the threatened Yellow-spotted river turtle. This facility is the source of the juvenile fish that will be raised in the Aquaponics Unit. With help from IIAP, commonly consumed native fish species will be tested in the unit to determine the most effective fish densities and growth rates for our tanks.
Meanwhile, we also checked the gravel that will be placed in the plant grow beds for appropriate size (the small gravel is being sifted from the earth by hand). Once the water system is fully functional and the fish become established for a few weeks, the types of vegetables to be planted (such as lettuce or other) will be determined after consulting with the community.
The second day of the workshop gave the participants an opportunity to discuss the information they learned on the first day, develop their Institute’s mission as a group, and begin thinking about how to incorporate aquaponics into their curriculum (the school year starts on March 1). Interestingly, aquaponics can offer more than accessible, nutritious food, it can also provide a teaching tool; for example, to explain fish and plant biology, water chemistry, math, communications, and even art! At the end of the day, the teachers were able to walk out to the aquaponics site and view it under construction.
The first day of our 3-day Aquaponics Workshop was a great success! We held the training at the Bilingual Institute, beginning with active ice breakers, introductions, and expectations for the workshop, followed by presentations by me and John about the aquaponics project and our experiences in Jamaica, as well as presentations by the Fish Biology Institute and the Health and Nutrition agency. We later discussed details with the biologist about the fish species that might work best in the unit.
We’ve been getting around town and nearby villages by moto-taxi (primarily), boat, and old-fashioned walking. When the rains are exceptionally heavy, some communities on the Laguna Yarinacocha (lagoon off of the main Ucayali River) are only accessible by boat. After walking through thick, reddish mud, I now I understand how Pucallpa got its name – it’s a Quechua word (puka allpa) for “red earth.”