An innovative adaptive agriculture project at a full-service school in Ekurhuleni – led by INMED South Africa, with funding from Air Products South Africa – has set the benchmark for introducing new technical skills such as aquaponics in schools.
This is in line with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s directive via his State of the Nation address in February that schools should look at integrating aquaponics into their curricula to meet a growing demand for practical skills and food security in the country. The president highlighted that to expand participation in the technical streams, several ordinary public schools will be transformed into technical high schools.
Responding in a recent parliamentary Q&A session, Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga said that the government plans to have a technical high school in each regional school circuit. She added that the government had since made a “substantial push” towards technical subjects in South Africa’s education sector.
“The time frame for the transformation and expansion of schools will be over a period of 5 years starting in 2020 – 2025,” Motshekga said.
“Laerskool Kempton Park (LKP) had introduced aquaponics as a subject two years ago, following the installation of an aquaponics system by INMED South Africa in September 2017,” said LKP principal Andre Page. He explained that the system not only offers an educational platform for learners across all grades to learn about adaptive agriculture but to simultaneously provide a sustainable supply of vegetables and fish for the school’s feeding scheme.
In addition to the aquaponics system, INMED South Africa, with funding from Air Products, included a traditional garden – with a twist.
“Because many of the students at Laerskool Kempton Park have a disability or learning challenges, we installed a special sensory garden, featuring a barefoot walking path of various textures, water and sound walls, fragrant fruit trees brightly coloured plants and garden toys,” said INMED South Africa Programmes Director Unathi Sihlahla.
Page highlighted that teachers use the aquaponics system and the sensory garden as teaching tools and therapy for their students. Aquaponics is not labour intensive, therefore the children all gleefully assist with the planting and harvesting of the vegetables and herbs, providing care and feeding the fish.
Sihlahla explained that aquaponics is an agricultural technique adapted to climate change that combines aquaculture and soilless crop growing. The system at LKP is a custom size tailored to the school grounds consisting of three fish tanks and five grow beds.
“The system exposes teachers and learners to the importance of health and nutrition and teaches them the skills to grow their own vegetables in a way that is quick, energy efficient, environmentally friendly and chemical-free,” related Sihlahla.
He noted that INMED has pioneered aquaponics to improve the nutrition and food security of children and families and develop economic opportunities in vulnerable communities in South Africa for close to a decade.
“Air Products was our first and has been our most consistent partner, to expand aquaponics to primary and secondary schools,” Sihlahla added. “Both INMED and Air Products understand the direct correlation between child nutrition and performance in school. We want all children to have access to nutritious food and opportunities to succeed in life.”
Rob Richardson, Air Products MD, highlighted that the LKP project is one of the many schools that have received funding from the company for INMED aquaponics systems – and the concept of educating learners about health and nutrition is very much in line with the company’s corporate social investment (CSI) strategy.
“At Air Products, we place emphasis on making a difference in the communities in which the company operates, and even more importantly in the current strained economy, we believe transferring skills and assisting communities to become self-sustainable has a socio-economic development advantage,” he commented.
Market Research and Strategy Manager and Chairperson of the CSI Committee for Air Products, Arthi Govender, added that the CSI aspect of the partnership complements their strategic focus on the youth and education. Furthermore, the “innovative and environmentally friendly method” aligns to Air Products’ culture of embracing innovation and technology. “We believe in the sustainability of the initiative – it is a great concept with many benefits, and the many facets of the aquaponics system add a lot of value to the initiative,” she concluded.