It has been a while since I have had the opportunity to find some time to put the myriad of thoughts that have been milling in my head to some form of logical order. There was a flurry of activity doing some much needed renovations and additions to the house, and in recent days my brother has been visiting from London. Chatting to him, some of my other international friends and colleagues have been great for clearing the clutter that has been my attempt to direct my mind around aquaponic applications in the developing world.
That bit though, I will leave for another time. What has been fascinating me for some time now is the debate around some form of regulatory control and quality standards for commercial aquaponic production. For most of the debate, I have been supportive of the need for some kind of quality control, but sympathetic to the desires of people that do not want the stifling effects of regulation to enter into a world that is essentially, for the greater majority of people I interact with, a private passion and not a commercial one. For some time the two camps' main arguments must have been floating around in my head, together with some of my own realisations, until a simple gift triggered the whole lot to fall into place. As these events seem to unfold, you tend to stand in amazement for a while that it took so long for it all to make more sense, and even though I think that many of the issues is a lot clearer for me, I’m not sure if I am thinking in the same manner now as some of the people that I may not have fully understood before.
The gift was some wild honey collected by bee keepers on my family’s farm – still in the comb as it was collected in days gone by. It struck me how much this honey differed from the supermarket stuff. This thought gelled with my realization that it, same as all my aquaponic crops, did not follow the same production path as the supermarket stuff. Sure, you have to work with the bits of impurities and wax, but the taste seem to be well worth the extra effort. From here it was not long before I started wondering how great the distinction is between the good intention of quality control and the end result of the processed product. With this statement I do not want to imply that quality standards will destroy all the taste and value we hold dear in aquaponic crops. I do wonder, though, how possible it is going to be to be able to put down wild honey in front of a consumer in the modern era.
I think this puts us squarely back in the two camps whenever the regulatory topic is stirred. How do we, in essence, allow paying customers access to food that has been processed as little as possible without incurring the wrath and scrutiny of the regulators? When it is you on your own farm or in your own back yard it is simple. But what if a consumer wants to be able to buy the wild honey? Does the “willing buyer, willing seller” type concept of a transaction carry over to a scenario where whole food is traded with the implicit trust that the product desired is as natural as possible and that the producer has done everything necessary to prepare the product in a safe and sanitary state without resulting in the “supermarket effect”? Perhaps in a local farmer’s market scene, but how is this translated into large scale production, or niche product supply to places such as restaurants or hotels where the proprietor is liable for customers keeling over?
I think the essence of the train of thought I am on right now is what does the future look like for production methods such as aquaponics? It has every logical reason to succeed in a world with dwindling resources and a desire for sustainable production, yet it typically runs the risk of flying in the face of the same regulations controlling the rest of food production world wide. There are at least three obvious potential outcomes here (considering aquaponics enters mainstream production) – commercial aquaponic production retains the resource use efficiency on the production side, but gets processed to the point that it looks and tastes like everything else. Alternatively, a new line of production regulations are developed to allow the commercial distribution of aquaponic crops with as little processing as possible. Lastly, acceptable quality control is implemented that satisfies all parties involved without compromising any of the benefits people associate with aquaponic production. As I live in a developing country with very little in the line of daily fresh produce markets or large scale organic production available, I’m completely unsure about where it is all going to end up. I wish I was somewhere where diverse commercial aquaponics is going to hit retail outlets soon, because I would love to see how it turns out. Perhaps the challenge of promoting sustainable production will bring with it the production environment where local markets again dominate the fresh produce supply chain even in countries like mine.
I hope so, but on the other hand, anticipate a massive need for therapy for the general populous who have been brainwashed by years of anti-bacterial soap adverts advocating soil = dirt = germs = touch soil and you need to wash your hands.