Today many schools find themselves serving communities characterised by challenging socio-economic circumstances. Without sufficient Departmental funding for subsidised feeding programmes, finding a better, more sustainable solution to feed learners has become increasingly critical as many of the learners rely on the school for their only hot nutritious meal of the day.
Ingenuity and out-of-the-box thinking is often required. “This was one of the key reasons we partnered with INMED SA initially,” says Arthi Govender, Chairperson of the corporate social investment (CSI) Committee at Air Products. She says the INMED South African team showed how aquaponics, an innovative food production technique that combines aquaculture (fish farming) with hydroponics (soilless crop production in water) in a closed symbiotic system, could work in the school environment. “We had already sponsored INMED’s first aquaponics system in Vanderbijlpark at the Carel De Wet Technical High School, and as we expanded our business to the Midvaal area, it made sense to expand into schools in this area and Randvaal was our next choice for an aquaponics system and traditional garden in 2016,” says Govender.
“At Randvaal the traditional garden grow beds, in addition to providing sustainable sustenance, have also become a valuable learning tool for students as they are taught the skills of producing their own vegetables,” says Janet Ogilvie, Operations Manager for INMED SA.
The relationship between INMED, Air Products and the school is an extremely positive one and this year Air Products once again generously supported INMED to revamp the school’s green house, fixing up and cleaning and painting of the original aquaponics system which has not been operational for a while due to theft in the area. Air Products also donated shade netting and a drip irrigation system for the traditional grow beds which will make the harvest this year even better.
The school has in fact managed to tender some excellent spinach crops and were able to harvest 27kg from their traditional garden this month which can now be shared with learners from the school and members of the community.
“Helping to provide produce for our school learners is so critical as almost 45% of the children attending our school are on our feeding scheme and the number of children we need to support has almost doubled from about 500 in 2015 to close to 1 230 this year,” says Piet du Toit, Randvaal Principal.
Du Toit says the school needs to take care of the basic needs of the children before they can educate them. “If they are hungry, they cannot learn. I would like to make Aquaponics part of the curriculum. It’s such a great learning tool. Over the last five years we have taught learners how to grow their own vegetables and many have managed to transfer their skills to family members at home who now not only have food on the table, but also a source of income from selling their produce. We now need to show them how to preserve food. Our school is located around informal settlements therefore many homes don’t even have electricity, and this creates a problem,” he says.
“We are extremely proud of the work we have done at Randvaal. Our focus at Air Products is on the youth and education and through partnerships like this, we have the opportunity to educate, empower and add value to the lives of our children and the communities in which they live,” concludes Govender.