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The APIVA project: Aquaponics, Plant Innovation and Aquaculture

Aquaponics enables a combination of plant production and fish farming.  Involving different actors from the aquacultural and horticultural sectors, the purpose of APIVA is to test and characterise different aquaponic systems both both the technical and economic points of view, using warm or cold water, with a view to transferring the technology to professionals in the sector. 

L’ aquaponie  ou l’art de conjuguer pisciculture, productions végétales et respect de l’environnement. © INRA, Laurent Labbé
Updated on 03/13/2015
Published on 03/02/2015

A complex and ancestral method

Aquaponics is an ancestral production technique that has been used throughout the world (traces have been found in the Aztec culture of Central America, or in Asia associated with rice growing) and enables the symbiotic production of fish and plant crops.


The technique is based on developing an ecosystem that combines three families of different living organisms in the same ecological cycle:

  • Fish (warm or cold water species) that produce waste rich in nitrogen (ammoniacal nitrogen and urea) and phosphorus, 
  • Aerobic bacteria which transform the ammoniacal nitrogen and urea into nitrite (Nitrosomas spp.)then nitrate (Nitrobacter spp.) that can be assimilated by plants,
  • Plants that are cultivated under soil-less conditions using nutrients in solution in water from the fish farm.

Control of this ecosystem is based on achieving the correct balance of the sizes of the different populations and maintaining the physicochemical parameters of water (pH, oxygenation, etc.) at levels that are acceptable to both the plants, fish and bacteria.

To achieve successful aquaponic cultivation, correct design of the system is essential in terms of its dimensions and production planning, its maintenance and its daily monitoring.


The APIVA project

The APIVA project was set up in this context, receiving funds of €1 million for a 36 month period.  Supported by the CASDAR (the French Ministry of Agriculture's special fund for agricultural and rural development), this project involves ITAVI, the RATHO horticultural unit, ASTREDHOR, INRA, the Canourgue agricultural training lycée and CIRAD.


Different trials are being carried out by these partners to test several aquaponic systems with two types of fish production in cold water(trout model)and warm water(tilapia model):


  • A "classic" system with the recirculation of warm water between a tilapia pond and a basil crop and the recirculation of cold water between a trout pond and a salad crop, in order to evaluate the impact of recycling water purified by plants on zootechnical and phytotechnical performance (Lycée de la Canourgue);
  • A trout-salad-floating macrophyte farming system (link).  This system, based on the recycling of water, has benefited from previous studies carried out by INRA's Experimental Unit for FinFish Farming - Monts d'Arrée (PEIMA);
  • A system coupling a fish farming compartment with independent water recycling that can be linked or not to a plant compartment in a greenhouse.  This innovative system is being housed at the RATHO horticultural research unit.


The possibility of using plant crops to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus emissions by fish farms is a path that will also be explored during this project.

In the longer term, the researchers and technicians involved in the project hope to develop high-performance aquaponics production systems for actors in the fish farming and horticultural sectors who wish to diversify and are committed to the development of more environmentally-friendly production methods. 

Partners in the APIVA project

  • ITAVI, the Technical Institute for Poultry Production (Institut Technique Avicole et Cunicole), http://www.itavi.asso.fr/
  • The Rhône Alpes Horticultural Technical Centre (RATHO), http://pep.chambagri.fr/index.php/ratho
  • ASTREDHOR, the National Association for Horticultural Experimentation and Demonstration (Institut technique de l’horticulture), http://www.astredhor.fr/
  • INRA's Experimental Unit for FinFish Farming - Monts d'Arrée (PEIMA); http://www6.rennes.inra.fr/peima
  • CIRAD - Agricultural Research for Development (Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement), http://www.cirad.fr/
  • Canourgue agricultural training lycée