Wastewater Colombia

Wastewater Colombia: Installing solar powered aquaponic farms on Medellin’s roof-tops

Bogota, ColombiaMedellín, Colombia
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
$10,000 - $50,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Aquaponic farms aim to move away from current agricultural practices and minimize negative externalities of car usage and road expansion, while creating jobs in Medellin. The jobs will be offered to displaced victims of the Colombian conflict and the food production will help facing food insecurity.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if we broke the established paradigm that “food is produced in rural areas and then distributed in urban areas” to adopt the paradigm of sustainable urban agriculture on roof-tops, and to provide better life opportunities for displaced people?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Colombia’s second city Medellin needs aquaponic farms to promote urban resilience and to address these issues: -Over 5% of Medellin children eat once or less daily -Medellin registers 5 daily deaths caused by air pollution -The city’s temperature has increased by 2.5°C since 1967 -There are only 4.1 m2 of green space per capita (the international standard is 9 m2) -Medellin accommodates more than 268,000 displaced people from rural areas

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

The aquaponic farm capitalizes on negative externalities of air pollution to increase agricultural productivity (the high CO2 level of Medellin feeds the plants). There is nearly zero water refill -it loses less than 5% of its water by evaporation- because bacteria and fish create a closed ecosystem. Aquaponic farms use the principles of hydroponics and aquaculture: cultivated vegetables grow thanks to the nutrients they find in the fish excrement. Then, plants naturally "clean" the fishes’ dirty water, and the clean water goes back into the aquarium. The farms will be installed on roof-tops to add value to these wasted spaces and to be near people’s housing. Energy needed for lamps and water heating will be produced by solar energy.


Since this project is only at its initial phases of replication, it has not received awards yet. However, we have sent various applications forms for awards but due to waiting times, we don't know the results yet.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

For food cultivation and sale, we want to offer the jobs to the victims of Colombia's conflict. We want to locate the farms where people face a daily struggle to provide food to their families. Colombia knows the longest civil conflict in the world -which has lasted for 65 years. The conflict has resulted in large movements of displaced population from rural areas to big Colombian urban hubs. This project is an opportunity for displaced people to restore their life project. They have learnt how to cultivate rural land, and now they will develop their skills in a new type of farming. Also, the victims of the armed conflict will ensure their food security, and effectively exercise their economic, social and cultural rights.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Since we are at the pilot stage, it is still difficult to give results of the activities of aquaponic farms. However, we know the positive impacts the project will have. Environment: No use of new farmland and reduction of soil exploitation Minimum water consumption and zero generation of waste water Food production more resilient to pests and diseases No use of fertilizer or agrochemicals No air pollution or generation of atmospheric emissions “Green” logistics and reduction of negative externalities Social: Better living opportunities for displaced people by offering a short vocational training and decent employment Reduction of malnutrition and food insecurity in deprived districts by selling cheap food suitable for a balanced diet Improved quality of life for people who will eat organic and locally produced food Potential educational space for youth and seniors

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

The aquaponic farm is an easily-replicable system since it exists kinds of crops and fish that can be cultivated in a cold or warm climate. From the moment when the local temperature is not below 0 Celsius degree, the aquaponic farm can be implemented anywhere. Also, as the distance between food production and consumption is reduced, it permits to avoid high transport costs and to have in-site food production. Finally, the system can potentially produce solar energy. If we achieve the first stage of implementation, the second stage will include the installation of solar panels on farms.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

We will operate the aquaponic farm and will sell the food products. Food will be sold to the inhabitants of the buildings with a farm. If food is left over after this sale, it will be sold to neighbors. We set 3 price levels for food products: -The economical option: for people living in deprived districts -The intermediate one: for people living in advantaged districts -The high one: for restaurants and for the agro-industrial production

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Currently in Colombia we can find various projects of vertical gardens in different cities, which embellish the places. However, they are projects of ornamental plants that consume large amounts of water. Our project needs almost zero water refill. Moreover, it will generate plants for food consumption, but also animal protein by including food fish. This ensures the food supply of people living close to the aquaponic farm.

Founding Story

One of the holders of the project wrote his Master’s thesis on aquaponic farms, provinding scientific contributions regarding the innovative farm. He built the experimental model and realized that the system worked extremely well. So he decided to think big and not to limit the system to the experimentation stage, but to extend it to the implementation of real-size urban aquaponic farms. In any village, small town or city in the world, populations need to consume food. The huge advantage of aquaponic farms is that the population's demand for vegetables, fruit and protein (through fish) can be covered with this system. So they will be installed in residential districts and restaurants.


The project holders are Andrés Bastidas, environmental engineer, and Juan David Velasquez, biologist, both passionate about sustainable development. They are both board members of Wasterwater Colombia. They built the pilot of the aquaponic farm in Andrés' appartment in Bogota. Diego Zapata, economist and expert in urban mobility, works on the sale of products and the jobs offered to displaced people. Ricardo Zapata Lopera, business administrator, and Marianne Fauchille, political scientist, work on marketing and communication, focusing on raising funds to finance the project. The three of them work part-time on the aquaponic farm project, and are also part of La Ciudad Verde ("The Green City"), a Colombian Think-Do Tank, which promotes more sustainable cities and regions.
Please confirm how you heard about the Unilever Awards:

From a colleague

Please confirm your role in the initiative (eg Founder/co-Founder) and your organisational title:

Representant of the founder - Intern

Which of the 8 UN Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals) pre-selected for this competition does your solution relate most closely to? [select all that apply]

Zero Hunger, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action.

Leadership and the Unilever Awards
Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

Wastewater Colombia has executed various projects of plant and water treatment engineering for companies and organizations in Colombia, such as the Colombian Air Forces, British American Tobacco, Terranum, Pacific E&P, Colombian Energy Services, among others.

Beyond your existing team, who else are you working with to achieve your objectives, eg partners, advisors, mentors?

We want to install aquaponic farms on roof-tops. One of the specific places of Medellin where one will be installed is the roof-top of the Pablo Tobon Uribe Theater, which supports us since the beginning of the project. The theater has a café where customers can order dishes. With the system of aquaponic farm, food will be grown directly above customers. The theater is located in a suitable area for aquaponic farm because it is in the center of the city, where there is an urban heat island and high air pollution, with a lot of CO2 to feed the plants.

Also, as the aquaponic farm project focuses a lot on green energy, we get some valuable help from Andrea Tosi. She has a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and a Master of Science in Sustainable Design from the University of Texas, in Austin. Andrea is passionate about solar energy and about making the technology more readily available in the developing world. She works closely with the team to ensure adequate power generation for lighting and heating needed for the system.

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