To grow healthy crops and for a sustainable economy during crises, an Omani startup iLab Marine has created an aquaponic farming platform for indoor gardening.
The farming unit allows one to grow leafy greens, such as lettuce and basil, while rearing fish assuring every family a sustainable source of vitamins and protein. The unit comes with an app with instructions on how to use it and also sell extra produce online.
Speaking to Muscat Daily, Waleed al Maawali, CEO of iLab Marine, said, “We develop agri-tech products for the fisheries and environmental sectors. I graduated from SQU in mechatronics and since then, I have led 11 hi-tech projects in marine, agri and robotic sciences. Our aquaponic farming product is called Rayhan (Basil) which combines aquaculture and agriculture.”
The Rayhan project was started four months ago. “We observed how COVID-19 impacted our food supply chain. We have a hot climate which doesn’t allow us to grow green crops and have a sustainable economy during a crisis. This sparked the idea of Rayhan – an aquaponic farming platform for indoor gardening,” Maawali noted.
“We offer a farming unit, along with plants, fish and the tools needed to begin aquaponic farming. We also provide an online marketplace to help people who bought our unit to sell their extra produce for a decent profit. The units are available for pre-order by contacting iLab Marine through Twitter and Instagram.”
Rayhan was awarded by The Research Council (TRC) under its Manafa’a programme in September 2020.
“Our team consists of three members. We took part in the Manafa’a competition – a 48-hour ideation race. Teams tried to formulate a business out of their research findings. It facilitated mentors and workshops that helped us look at different market perspectives. In the end, we made a five-minute pitch which was accepted by the judges. There were about 51 participants in Manafa’a from more than five colleges. TRC rewarded us RO2,500 as financial support.”
The team’s main challenge was breeding fish and plants simultaneously. It was difficult to create favourable conditions for both to grow, Maawali informed.
“Trying different iterations and several experiments helped us overcome this challenge. Another challenge was finding a test lab for our experiment, but we found a partner who provided us with space and equipment. We received assistance from Dr Issa al Farsi and Eng Yahya al Darwashi of the Aquaculture Centre in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Water Resources,” Maawali said.
“All GCC countries need to re-think on food sustainability during crises. COVID-19 alerted us about the possibility of food shortage when borders are closed. Hybrid farming solutions, such as aquaponics, can help families mitigate shortages. In addition, studies have shown that gardening helps relieve stress during lockdowns.”
Maawali’s plans for the future include building the largest aquaponic farm in Oman to help the country during crises and increase awareness about food security and the environment.