A sustainable solution to SA’s food crisis
A sustainable solution to SA’s food crisis? Aquaponics farm success in Gauteng to be replicated in Northern Cape. Heathy looking spinach growing at the INMED Aquaponics farm. Unathi Sihlahla, INMED SA Programme Director explaining how Aquaponics work. THE latest National Income Dynamics Study Coronavirus Rapid Mobile NIDSCRAM survey demonstrates compelling evidence that the South African food system is not working. Climate change is now regarded as the top risk factor facing farmers, and household food security has become a significant challenge, with 26% of all South Africans routinely experiencing hunger.
There is no doubt that the global pandemic has exacerbated the situation. However, the need to create sustainable and responsible food production has never been more urgent, as is the need for corporates and non-governmental organisations to embrace partnerships and new technologies that can feed the hungry and provide more environmentally friendly produce.
One such viable solution launched last month is the INMED Aquaponics® Social Enterprise INMED ASE in Vanderbijlpark, Gauteng. Unathi Sihlahla, Programme Director of INMED South Africa, which is implementing the programme, says the enterprise offers an ideal solution for transforming struggling communities into thriving climate-smart hubs of self-reliance. Launched with seed funding from Mondelez International via its new Sustainable Futures investment platform, it also clearly demonstrates the power of PPE’s to help provide new farmers with mentorship and funding to overcome many of the traditional obstacles these subsistence farmers face.
The INMED ASE hub in Vanderbijlpark houses commercial aquaponics systems that will be used for food production and training. It will also serve as a consolidation centre for the growing number of aquaponics farmers to sell their harvests at higher market rates and purchase inputs, such as seedlings and fingerlings, at bulk prices.
“What makes the INMED ASE unique,” says Sihlahla, “is that it is designed to facilitate the entire value chain of technical and business training, access to financing and links to markets to help smallscale farmers and traditionally marginalised populations overcome the barriers to entry, sustainability and scale. Farmers and emerging agro entrepreneurs will be trained at the INMED ASE Hub to get hands-on experience and mentoring. Food grown at the Hub also will be sold to a variety of buyers to ensure the sustainability of the programme and grow the enterprise.
Since the launch in March, farm manager Karah Mashava has made some excellent progress. “Using adaptive agriculture techniques, we started the traditional garden where we planted about 3 000 spinach plants and we have also started developing a second aquaponics system (Aquaponics system 2). This system has ten growing beds, each bed measuring seven square meters. The system also comprises five fish ponds with a total capacity of twenty thousand litres of water,” he says.
In April, the INMED ASE team harvested basil and lettuce from one of the three aquaponics onsite as well as microgreens like beetroot, radish, rocket and mustard, which have all been exceptionally well received by potential buyers around the Johannesburg area. “There has been overwhelmingly positive feedback from our potential buyers, mainly because of the way we grow our crop without the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides,” says Mashava.
The INMED ASE extends beyond the work at the farm. It’s unique hub and spokes network of physical and virtual training sites, mentor farmers from existing INMED Aquaponics® systems and producers and learning centres in public primary and secondary schools and universities all supported by a production, consolidation and training centre and satellite farmers with web and app-based real-time support and links to markets and financing. Sihlahla says the teams Continued on P2 A sustainable solution to SA’s food crisis? Continued from P1 were very excited that work could commence on the first aquaponics system “spoke” connected to the ASE hub at Randvaal Primary School. “Fittingly, Air Products, which sponsored INMED’s very first system in Vanderbijlparknow the site for the INMED ASE are also the sponsors of the aquaponics system and traditional garden at Randvaal,” he says. ”
Air Product’s additional sponsorship this year has made possible a revamp of the greenhouse and the original aquaponics system, which has not been operational for a while due to theft in the area. The system has been stocked with 2 500 catfish to feed the eight grow beds, each measuring seven square meters. We are planting in the system on the 26th of April 2021,” he says.
Air Products have also donated shade netting and drip irrigation systems for the traditional grow beds, which are growing fresh, nutritious produce for the school’s feed scheme.
Commenting on the next steps at the INMED ASE, Sihlahla says the emphasis is definitely on ramping up the production now that the second aquaponics unit is almost ready and expanding the farm’s traditional agricultural projects.
He says starting training at the farm will also be a priority in the next quarter. Through a new partnership with Ramizone, INMED is equipping one of its aquaponics beneficiary cooperatives in the Northern Cape to become another satellite for the INMED ASE. The all-female Pella Food Garden will provide localised training and scale INMED Aquaponics® throughout the Northern Cape.
“We understand how difficult it is for farmers to start and grow a business without support programmes in place that can help them not only with production but also with industry-related problems of finding a network of buyers for the produce,” says Sihlahla. “We believe the INMED ASE will go a long way in making a significant difference in the lives of these farmers and communities and look forward to continuing our journey.”