Ten years ago, INMED South Africa introduced the first school-based aquaponics system in South Africa at Pudumo Primary School in Orange Farm. Today, the system is still going strong, along with INMED Aquaponics® across the nation.
Funding for the project was provided by the forward-thinking ABSA Foundation. Using plans for a simplified system developed by parent organization, INMED Partnerships for Children, INMED South Africa brought it to life. It was a labour of love. “The tiny team of Khumbudzo Manyaga, who was INMED’s Adaptive Agriculture Program Manager at the time, Lucas Stander and myself dug the holes for the fish tanks and the cement grow beds foundations,” recalls Janet Ogilvie, Operations Manager for INMED South Africa. “After much discussion, we then built one fish tank and two grow beds to provide healthy fresh vegetables and fish for the school meals. For many learners at this school, this was the only meal of their day.”
Ogilvie recalls that the learners and teachers were fascinated by what the team was doing and were so excited to see the final product. “The day of the fish delivery created such excitement,” she says. “During break time, all the learners rushed to see the fish as most had never seen a live fish before.”
This was the start of a wonderful relationship between INMED SA and Pudumo Primary school. In 2016, the school hosted the launch of INMED’s Health in Action programme, a school-based nutrition and healthy lifestyles initiative of INMED South Africa in partnership with the Mondelēz International Foundation. “It focuses on improving access to fresh produce via school gardens and aquaponics as well as education and training for students, staff and parents on nutrition, physical fitness and making healthy choices,” explains Ogilvie.
Pudumo Primary obviously was their first choice for inclusion in the Health in Action programme. The staff assisted the INMED SA team with training for the kitchen preparers, staff and students at participating schools, with a focus on creating nutritious meals, demonstrating how to prepare them and developing fun activities to build strong healthy bodies.
“The principal, educators and food preparers at Pudumo Primary School are all very passionate about ensuring that the learners at the school receive nutritious meals and value the contribution that the vegetable garden and the INMED Aquaponics® system make towards achieving this,” says Dr Sandra Pretorius, Health in Action Programme Manager.
The success of the Health in Action programme is due, in large part, to Pudumo Primary School Principal, Mr Johannes Seruoe. He is not only very passionate about healthy eating; the importance of growing your own food and the nutritional status of children in his school, but also the health of the greater Orange Farm community. Many families in his community face food insecurity, and the school is integrally involved in assisting families in desperate need of food of donated food parcels. “During the lockdown last year, and immediately afterwards, when the schools were still struggling with COVID19, Principal Seruoe commented to me that the vegetable garden at Pudumo had been a life saver for them,” says Pretorius. “They managed to harvest enough spinach from the garden to feed all the children at the school.”
This project was a great learning experience for INMED SA and remains very special to its team members. “It really helped germinate a lasting passion for aquaponics and how it can help so many,” says Ogilvie. “One only has to look at the success of the project to appreciate the value it offers the community and to this day, I’m still passionate about aquaponics and the work we do.”
A decade later, INMED South Africa has implemented INMED Aquaponics® in Eastern Cape, Free State, Limpopo, Gauteng and Northern Cape “Our involvement with schools’ feeding schemes is so important, because it generates an interest in farming in the children at a young age,” notes Ogilvie, “and is a key solution for strengthening food security, climate adaptation and sustainable livelihoods. It’s the future of farming in South Africa.”