Youth harness the power of climate-smart agriculture to help South Africa’s most vulnerable citizens

South African youth are getting more involved in agriculture compared to a decade ago. They are increasingly learning how to grow their own crops and how to manage their livestock to ensure that there is sufficient food production. “For South African youth, agriculture is life, particularly having experienced the challenges COVID-19 has highlighted in our more vulnerable communities,” says Menzi Khumalo, an intern at INMED South Africa who works in the Free State with a number of different farming cooperatives to implement aquaponics.

Khumalo, age 27, has completed courses in fish care and breeding, and he helps with the technical aspects of the aquaponics systems at various sites in the Free State where INMED South Africa has partnered with USAID to help farmers with disabilities increase their capacity and achieve sustainable livelihoods.

Born in Vosloorus, Khumalo moved to Bethlehem as a young boy. He grew up in the Free State area, attending the Bethlehem College. “Working with the farmers through the Bethlehem Farmers Trust as well as many of the youth in the area has been a blessing,” says Khumalo.  “It has enabled me to form good friendships with many of my colleagues, and we have seen the benefit of aquaponics when compared to traditional farming methods.”

INMED Aquaponics® is a resilient, innovative and highly intensive food production technique that combines aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (soilless crop growing) in a closed system that is easily scalable to meet the needs of smallholder farmers, schools, government institutions, commercial enterprises and even home gardeners. Combined with business training, access to financing and links to markets, INMED Aquaponics® is addressing the global challenges of food security, poverty and climate-change adaptation.

In a country where food security is so critical, INMED Aquaponics® enables the farmers to produce throughout the year.  There is 90% less water consumption, less labour and energy savings. It also is an organic process, using fish waste instead of fertilizer to produce higher-quality produce at a faster rate than traditional farming.

“It is encouraging to see how many youth in the area have embraced this new style of farming, as they will be the food producers of the future,” notes Khumalo.

The communities surrounding the co-ops have been critical to the success of INMED’s work.  Through a broad range of agriculture, health, social, education, family support and community development programs, INMED has created opportunities that build hope, self-reliance and community collaboration to sustain positive change.

At a time when unemployment is also high, INMED Aquaponics® helps youth develop marketable skills to strengthen food security, income generation and climate-change adaptation.  Khumalo says pursuing a career in agriculture or food production is very important to the county’s future.

“Food will always be an essential need, so there will always be a demand for it. Learning how to produce and sell your own food can be cheaper and bring in more money for young people and communities,” says Khumalo. “I am excited to see interest and involvement in agriculture growing each and every year, and in the next 10 years I believe it will be a significant contributor to the economy of our country. For young people who get involved in agriculture, there is an opportunity to one day run their own farm or enterprise. Not only will this ensure sustainable employment and self-reliance but also provide much needed jobs.”