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Aquaponics brings relief in Soweto

In the township of Orlando, Soweto, many learners go to school hungry. But this will soon to be a thing of the past for hundreds of children, with the launch of a new food project that provides fresh produce and fish from an aquaponics facility.

Aquaponics is a sustainable farming method which uses the waste of farmed fish to supply plants with nutrients to grow. The fish are also harvested to provide protein-rich food to communities.  

The facility in Soweto is part of a partnership between INMED Partnerships for Children and the City of Johannesburg’s Food Resilience Unit, and was funded by the Mondelēz Foundation.

“Orlando has a high unemployment rate and food insecurity among its community members, because the area does not have enough land for food production. Many school children have limited access to fresh foods, affecting their ability to learn and grow to their fullest potential,” said INMED Operations Manager Janet Ogilvie.

The farming method offers the perfect solution for growing food in urban areas with limited space and water. Vegetables are grown in trays stacked on top of each other, meaning that valuable ground space is not taken up. The plants clean the waste water produced by the fish, so that it can be fed back into the fish pond. This cycle means that water is never wasted.

Schools and needy community members will be the main recipients of the fresh produce, while some will also be donated for patients in the neighbouring Elias Motsoaledi Clinic.

After only one month, the system has already produced a harvest of greens.

“Other aquaponics plants are already starting to bear fruit, and the first full crop of produce should be ready for harvest by the beginning of 2019,” said Ogilvie.

“The area has also been opened to community members for tours, demonstrations and informal training on aquaponics and climate-smart food production.”

A similar system at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, has provided over 6 000 learners with fresh produce, tilapia and catfish.

Food Resilience Unit representative Zandile Zwane said the project will have a number of different for the community.

“In the area we have a primary school, early childhood development facilities and a school for disabled children. We are currently identifying which of these we will be able to support,” said Zwane.

She said the second part of the project will provide skills development to farmers.

“We are identifying people that are able to read and write, so that they can be trained and then transfer their skills to other farmers. They will be the ones who manage the facility. Some of the food will be donated, and some will be used to create income for the farmers,” said Zwane.