Now, many Saudi families are setting up commercial-grade aquaponics operations.
“The reason aquaponics is taking off is the ROI (return on investment) is actually very competitive,” said Mohammed, who is 28 years old. “These are not only sustainable businesses, but they can generate good profits.”
Aquaponics is an offshoot of hydroponics, which came to the Kingdom in the 1990s. There are about 130 hydroponics farms, according to the Saudi Ministry of Agriculture. While the operations have spread, they are still the exception among 800,000 conventional farms.
Thanks to government support, aquaponics is growing. The Saudi government no longer grants commercial fish breeding permits unless businesses commit to repurposing the water in a hydroponic way to make it more sustainable and profitable.
Aquaponics farms typically breed tilapia fish, whose ammonia waste is converted to nitrate-based plant food. The organic fertilizer and calibrated hydroponic dosage of water generates returns of up to 25 percent, Mohammed said. That is far better than conventional farm ROIs, he said, which are 10 to 15 percent.