Sushila K.C. on Bringing Positive Impact with Sustainable Agriculture and Aquaponics


Sushila K.C. is a fisheries expert and an aquaculturist at the Himalayan College of  Agricultural Sciences and Technology (HICAST). She was also a fisheries scientist at the Nepal Agricultural Research Council. She teaches aquaculture at HICAST in Kathmandu but spends most of her time volunteering at the Maya Universe Academy which is a not-for-profit organization that provides free education and boarding for students in rural areas. The school generates its own income through sustainable agricultural practices such as goat farming, poultry, and horticulture. 

Ms. K.C. oversees these activities and plans on adding aquaculture to the list as well. Her personal research work, however, is about aquaponics. Aquaponics is a method of fish farming where waste produced by the fish is circulated into a system and is used as a fertilizer to grow plants using hydroponics. Ms. K.C. believes that this is a concept that could be very applicable in Kathmandu because it is easy to maintain system that doesn’t require a lot of space and produces both fish and organic vegetables. Plus, there’s the added aesthetic of an aquarium. 
She shared some of her ideas and experiences about Maya Universe Academy and Aquaponics with us. 

1. Could you tell us more about Maya Universe Academy and how is it different from other schools in Nepal?
I split my time between teaching aquaculture in Kathmandu and volunteering at Maya Universe Academy. I’ve been volunteering there since it was founded by Manjil Rana eight years ago. It’s the first private free boarding school in Nepal which also provides a hundred percent scholarship to its students who require full-time boarding. It is located in Damauli, Tanahun. We are different than most boarding schools as we keep up with the government school curriculum but also emphasize on extracurricular activities. Students take courses like yoga and art that are taught by Nepali and international volunteers and hence, have a lot of time to play, learn and enjoy themselves in the process. Many of them show up early in the morning to get started because they’re so excited to be there. The parents are also involved as they have to volunteer at the school for at least two days a month where they help with the sustainable agricultural activities that support the school. Moreover, they are free to choose any activity and are eager to help. 

2. What is your role at Maya Universe Academy?
The school is supported financially through its agricultural production. We practice horticulture, poultry farming, and goat farming; we grow lemons, avocados, and oranges as well as vegetables. I manage all these programs and have been doing so for the past eight years. The income that these activities generate keeps the school going and pay the teachers’ salaries too. Additionally, all of our agricultural practices are organic and sustainable. The manure from the goats and other animals are reused for agriculture. Also, I’m hoping to start aquaculture soon as well. 

3. Were there any challenges that you faced while starting Maya Universe Academy? What are the challenges you are facing currently?
Starting the project was easy. There were no boarding schools in the area so the community was very supportive. We didn’t even have a building at first and were teaching students under a tent. But more and more students started showing up so we constructed a new building for them. However, the expansion of the school has become difficult now. Our school exists in three districts and we are trying to go further but getting permission from various governing bodies has been difficult. 
There are also operational issues like our water supply. It is often scarce but we are trying to find solutions to that. We use rainwater harvesting systems and there are ponds or dharas that are for public use. We have a well and are making do but still, face water scarcity.

4. You had an interesting research project on Aquaponics that you presented at the Smart Urban Tech Challenge. Could you tell us more about that?
My presentation and idea for the Smart Urban Tech Challenge (SUTC) were focused on my own research on aquaponics. I carried out my research project and developed a prototype in my own home. The research project using catfish and lettuce was very successful and I believe that it has a lot of potential in Kathmandu. I recently completed a course in the United States about aquaponics and was intrigued by it so I wondered why we hadn’t started doing this in Nepal yet. After I came back to Nepal, I installed an aquaponics unit in my house right away! I have a thorough understanding of aquaculture and hope to implement this at the Maya Universe Academy soon too. 

5. What are the challenges that you see coming forth while implementing Aquaponics in Nepal?
Aquaponics is applicable for use in urban areas and can be used to produce organic vegetables and fish in a small area. However, it’s difficult to popularize because people aren’t familiar with the concept. I reassure people that it is an easy system that is easily maintained and can be used to produce fish and vegetables for consumption and can also be aesthetically pleasing in the form of an aquarium.

6. What are the future plans for Maya Universe Academy and the implementation of Aquaponics in Nepal?
We have schools only in three locations so far: Rauta, Udayapur district and Kesabtar and Pokhari Bhanjang, Tanahu district so the goal is to expand Maya Universe to all 75 districts in Nepal. As for aquaponics, I’m not sure because it requires a high capital investment and constant attention which is not possible because I travel back and forth between Kathmandu and other boarding schools. 

Ideally, I would like to train people to work on these systems and implement them in other people’s homes in Kathmandu. I currently do have a registered business where I breed and sell aquarium fish and am hoping to provide aquaponics services too. There is a lot of potentials and a lot of variety and flexibility that comes with installing an aquaponics system. But getting the investment to do so is difficult. I have had a lot of people come to see the system I have installed in my house. Although they are very enthusiastic about it, no one has come forth as a serious investor.

Interviewed and article by Jyotika Shah.