As a fitting tribute to mark the end of Deaf Awareness month in September, INMED South Africa partnered with the Deaf Empowerment Firm (DEF) to host an aquaponics training workshop for a group of individuals with hearing impairments at the INMED Aquaponics® Social Enterprise (INMED ASE) in Vanderbijlpark. The INMED ASE is a new type of incubator of entrepreneurial agro-enterprises for climate-smart food production.
Driven by DEF and INMED South Africa, with the support of strategic partners Mondelēz International Foundation and USAID Southern Africa, this project promotes positive aspects of deafness, as well as social inclusion of all members of deaf communities as well as critical skills development options offered through the INMED ASE for the hearing impaired.
Commenting on Mondelēz International’s decision to invest into the Aquaponics Social Enterprise initiative, Mondelēz Corporate and Government Affairs Lead for Sub Sahara Africa, Navisha Bechan-Sewkuran, says, the initiative is in line with the company’s corporate social investment initiatives that seek to contribute towards sustainable economic empowerment, through education, training and entrepreneurial skills development.
Aquaponics is an intensive form of agriculture, combining hydroponics and fish farming in a closed symbiotic system that produces at least 10 times more crops than traditional farming using a tenth of the water, with no chemical fertilizers or pesticides, makes that possible – even where scarce water, soil and space conditions exist. Most importantly, the technique is adaptable, user-friendly and safe for people with all disabilities.
Wednesday 29 September marked the start of the two-day theoretical and practical training for 15 hearing impaired young people from Soweto and Orange Farm as they enter the world of aquaponics.
The founder and Managing Director of DEF, Alex Msitshana, explains that this is the organisation’s first project in the agricultural sector and a great way of exploring opportunities where we could empower our candidates in a social enterprise/farming environment. “We identified aquaponics farming as one of the best programmes through which to empower young Deaf people and with this shared vision, a partnership was formed with INMED South Africa.”
DEF’s first contact with INMED South Africa was met with great enthusiasm, as the two groups share similar missions. “We had site visits to INMED’s enterprises in Soweto and Vanderbijlpark and were pleasantly encouraged by how this system of agriculture works,” says Msitshana.
Unathi Sihlahla, Programme Director for INMED South Africa, says the synergy between DEF and the INMED ASE was apparent from the start.
Msitshana concurs. “The INMED ASE reinforces our vision of changing the perception that Deaf people are only fit to do menial work,” she says. “Having skills in aquaponics and running a successful aquaponics enterprise will serve as affirmation that Deaf people can do this kind of work too. Aquaponics will also help our candidates learn a new skill that is currently scarce in our country.”
Nearly all the candidates participating in the training do not have matric due to the challenges Deaf learners face. “In our country, most schools for the Deaf do not offer curricula to matric level,” Msitshana explains.
During the two-day session, trainees were shown how to build a simple aquaponics structure from scratch, combat climate change, take care of produce and fish, access markets and learn financial management.
Post training, the candidates are going to form part of the DEF enterprise development business unit.
“We have no doubt that what the 15 DEF candidates have learnt over the two days at the INMED ASE will stand them in good stead as individuals and valued family and community members in the future, and we wish them all success. In future we hope to collaborate with other government stakeholders, such as the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development as well as the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, to provide longer term skills development training,” says Sihlahla.
“The aim is to move our candidates from job seekers to job creators. The INMED ASE will be used as both a training place as well as an entity to offer employment to other hearing impaired people seeking employment. We see this partnership with INMED as a catalyst to help candidates launch their own enterprises from which they can make a sustainable living,” concludes Msitshana.