Indonesia is always hit by deadly natural disasters every year. Earthquakes, volcano eruptions, forest fire, huge floods, tsunamis, as well as prolonged droughts in other regions are considered as the most frequent disasters occurred in this country. Let me take drought as an example. The National Disaster Mitigation Agency of Indonesia has released monthly data and reported that at least 78 cities and 19 million people were suffered from prolonged drought in July 2018. The prolonged drought caused a water shortage in those areas for months, leading a thousand hectares of fields into crop failures and threatening the country with the food crisis. One of the worst scenarios of this situation is the people in the affected area will suffer from starvation as the result of unsustainable food production. The government tried hard to overcome this condition by suggesting several solutions, which is in my opinion, aquaculture seems to be the most potential one.
The Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries of Indonesia has introduced catfish farming using biofloc system to the borderlands in 2017 and the outcome was quite successful. The reason behind its success is because biofloc system requires less water exchange, offers more advantages than the common aquaculture practice and can be integrated with polyculture so the farmers will not only cultivate fish but also vegetables. If this system is also introduced to the areas where prolonged droughts occur, it can be a potential solution to maintain food sustainability.
Biofloc system is an eco-friendly aquaculture which actually has been practiced in Indonesia years ago, for example in North Sumatera, the place where I lived. There, the farmers built their biofloc pools using plastic/canvas tanks and raised catfish as the dominant species. They chose catfish because of its popularity among consumers and also the good market price. Despite fewer articles reporting biofloc aquaculture practice in North Sumatera, this system is quite successful thus more people are interested to try it.
Bioflocs itself are the aggregates (flocs) of algae, bacteria, protozoans, and other kinds of particulate organic matter such as feces and uneaten feed. The basic principle of this system is the microbial conversion of nutrient waste in aquaculture (mainly ammonia) into microbial biomass. Using this technology, it is possible to minimize water exchange and water usage in aquaculture systems through maintaining adequate water quality within the culture unit, while producing low-cost bioflocs rich in protein, which in turn can serve as a feed for aquatic organisms.
Within 2 years after the introduction in the borderland, there are already several articles that reported the success of catfish farming using biofloc. In Manokwari (border of Indonesia-Papua New Guinea), the farmers were successfully cultivated 1.5 tons of catfish only from 6 biofloc pools with a selling price between 35.000-40.000 rupiah/kg. Other success stories came from Sanggau (border of Indonesia-Malaysia), where the farmers cultivated 3 tons of catfish from 10 pools with selling price 24.000 rupiah/kg. There are more success stories in other regions but unfortunately, they are not reported yet. I also witnessed local catfish farmers in North Sumatera who integrated their pools with polyculture system. The farmers utilized their biofloc waste to water the vegetable plants and some of them even made liquid organic fertilizer from the waste.
Despite the advantages of this promising system, convincing people to practice biofloc is still a big challenge, especially in the crisis areas where the condition is not conducive after the disaster. Firstly, water has become scarce and expensive to an extent of limiting aquaculture development. Secondly, the release of polluted effluents into the environment is prohibited in most countries. Thirdly, severe outbreaks of infectious diseases led to more stringent biosecurity measures, such as reducing water exchange rates. However, no need to worry if we are going to practice biofloc because this system does not require frequent water change and produces a small amount of waste that actually useful for plants. One of the challenges is that people tend to think that practicing a new thing will be difficult, expensive and only people with high education can do it—this is the common mindset of Indonesian that I often observe.
I am quite sure that if the government also introduce biofloc in the crisis area the way they introduced it in the borderlands, it will be successful as well. However, a good approach is needed in order to convince the people so they can be economically benefited by this practice. Providing them all the raw materials needed to set up the pools as well as high-quality fish seeds and competent instructors for free in the beginning to educate the new farmers are also a good choice so that they can run their own biofloc farming independently.