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Researcher Develops Sustainable Agriculture System for Impoverished Nations

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Uploaded on May 20, 2009

On April 19, three University of Arizona students - Eller College MBAs Kyle VanderLugt and Mauricio Torres-Benavides, and environmental science graduate student Rafael Martinez - topped the P3 Student Design Competition for Sustainability in Washington, D.C. The competition, sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, encourages college students to apply technology in innovative ways to tackle global environmental challenges.

The trio was awarded $75,000 in prize money, which will be used to fund implementation of their project in collaboration with the Universidad Juárez Autónoma de Tabasco in Mexico, beginning this summer.

VanderLugt, also a doctoral student in environmental science, has spent the past two years developing the project. Its a combination of agriculture and aquaculture [fish farming], he explains. The process uses fish waste to nourish plants; the water is purified by the soil, which in turn cycles back to the fish. Its a closed system, VanderLugt adds. Theres no fertilizer, no pesticides, and a 90 percent recapture of the water. Its a highly water-conservative process.

The system, called re-circulating integrated agriculture aquaculture or RIAA, is designed for use in small communities in underdeveloped nations. The technology is simple and scalable, and can be implemented for basic subsistence farming as well economic growth, VanderLugt says.

Start-up costs for the system run about $500. Even this modest initial cost can be daunting to communities in underdeveloped nations, points out Torres-Benavides. But this type of project is ideal for microfinancing, and once the system is up and running, the community will realize a return very quickly. VanderLugt adds that the team hopes to partner with NGOs and academic cooperatives to expand the concept to communities in Africa, east Asia, and South America.

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